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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Comments for URSI Alumni Reunion, 10/4/13

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- Tony Filipovitch


One of my favorite cartoons is by Bill Mauldin, the WWII military cartoonist, which shows Willy & Joe high on a hill looking down at Anzio Beach. Willy is saying, “My God, here they wuz an’ there we wuz.” It is good to look back from time to time and realize how far we have come.

But I am careful of the distinction between history and memoir. Memoir is a personal story of events; history is what is written after all the actors are gone and there is enough distance to put things in perspective. So, with apologies to the many whose contributions I have omitted or glossed over, here is my version of the story—but if it isn’t true, it ought to be.

I know to some of you it seems like I have been here longer than dirt, but the truth is I was not here from the beginning. The Institute was established as a faculty committee in 1964, and the Master’s Degree was approved in 1967. In 1978 when I first came to Mankato State University (as it was called then), half of the University was down the hill on lower campus and buses ran constantly up Val Imm Dr, with students hanging out the doors the bus was so full. Bill Bassett was the City Manager, Herb Mocol was the Mayor, Region IX (a fledgling organization) was in the Carnegie Center, Doug Moore had just left as President, Bill Webster was Dean of the new College of Social Sciences, the Administration Building was just being completed and Gage Hall was still standing. Bob Barrett was the Director of the Institute, Smith (he was known as “Uncle Rog” back then) and Joe Symons were the faculty, and Mary Ellen was the Secretary. How time flies when you’re having fun!

Back then, the Institute already had a national reputation. Bob Barrett was one of the founding Directors in 1969 of the Council of University Institutes of Urban Affairs (now known as the Urban Affairs Association--I also became a Director in the early ‘90s). The Institute was also an early recipient of the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowships in Public Affairs from the US Dept of Education, and when eligibility rules changed we shifted to the Community Development Work-Study Fellowships from HUD. We received more awards from this program than any other university, including Harvard. Congress no longer funds either of these programs, and we have had to find other means for supporting students in the program. Barrett used those funds, not only to provide stipends but also to underwrite the cost for students to attend national conferences. In fact, that is part of the reason I am here. In the mid-70s, I was teaching at the University of Tulsa (my Chair, Earl Reeves, was also a CUIUA Director with Barrett). I delivered a paper at the New Orleans Conference, and was really impressed with the URSI students whom I met at lunch and at the sessions. When URSI posted a vacancy in 1978, I was already interested in Mankato—but not the climate or the location (that would come later).

H. Roger Smith was also making waves. Time magazine ran a story (9/6/71, 98(10), p. 36), “Down and Out in Boston,” on The Plunge, a course he taught that took students across the country, studying the changes in settlement form as they went. It ended with the students living on the streets for a week (liability rules were a lot looser back then). The story featured Frank Huszar, Peter Dahm, Peg Dusek, and Bob Wournos. Other Plunges went to Alabama, San Francisco, and into the Rockies. They even went sailing (talk about making waves).

The other member of the faculty was Joe Symons, a wild and crazy geographer from UWashington. He was (and still is) a tech geek, and along with Barrett developed a computer-based urban simulation game. Remember, this was back in the bad old days before PCs. The students would take the roles of city council, developers, city staff, etc. and would meet once a week to make formal decisions. Those decisions would be key-punched on 80-column cards and submitted to the computer center (down on lower campus), and reams of computer read-out would be returned the following day, displaying in graphic (sort of—the printers displayed “maps” as spatial arrays of Xs and Os) and numerical form the results of the decisions made the day before. This was one of the first city simulations in the country (well before SimCity) and started us on our tradition of hands-on, experiential learning. In 1983 we received an award from the State for innovations in the use of microcomputers in teaching.

Joe and Uncle Rog (as he was then known) also egged each other on, both of them firm believers in Saul Alinsky’s principle that “a good tactic is one that your people enjoy.” Joe’s everyday greeting was “Are you having fun?” One time, after a particularly long hard day, Joe & Rog held “chair races” where faculty/student teams raced a figure-8 course around the hallways in Morris Hall, pushing each other on the wheeled secretary’s chairs. The folks in the History and PoliSci departments next door were not amused. Another time they got into a debate about what would happen if you loosened the cap on a tube of toothpaste and hit it in the middle. So of course they had to test their hypotheses—in the office. The answer? It got all over everything in both directions!

Roger Davis (a wizard at grant-grubbing) was leaving just as I came on board. He had been a student in the Master’s program, and had stayed on to write and manage grants and teach a course or two.

And I must acknowledge the long-suffering people who had to put up with all of this madness. Mary Ellen Werner set a high standard—she was unflappable in the chaos, put things in order wherever she could, and through it all saw to it that the students were taken care of. She was the heart of this place, the first face of the department to students and visitors, and a wizard at keeping us on budget (and out of jail) for all of those grants. She was irreplaceable, until Rita McEvoy showed up and rose to the challenge, and now it is Missy Manderfeld’s job to keep us in line.

Over time, I have seen the department grow from 3 faculty to as many as 7.

  • Three years after I arrived, David Laverny-Rafter came on board as Joe Symons was leaving.
  • George Stoops in Geography had long taught planning. After he retired in the mid-80s, Perry Wood joined URSI from the Geography Department.
  • Late in the 80s we hired Mary McDearmon, bringing us up to 6 full-time faculty.
  • After Mary left, we hired Miriam.
  • Jan Cherrington came on board in 1999 when I went to the Graduate Office.
  • In 2004, we brought Raymond Asomani-Boateng on board, and we were the first program to participate in the University’s Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Program, bringing in Beth Wielde (now Heidelberg), growing briefly to 7 full-time faculty.
  • When Perry retired recently, he was replaced by Russell Fricano.

We also bridged turbulent economic times with multi-year fixed-term appointments, notably Bill Bernhagen and Sandra King. While many academic departments are less than happy with adjunct faculty appointments, URSI has always welcomed the practitioner’s viewpoint. We experimented with a “practitioner-in-residence” program, setting aside funds to create a rotating, one-year appointment for professional planners and managers to work and teach with us. G. Stevens Bernard, Peter Dahm, and George Brophy taught some of you under this program. Unfortunately, when the University’s budget fell short untenured faculty positions were taken first and we lost those funds.

In The Leopard, Lampedusa’s novel about the Risorgimento in Italy, one of the characters says, “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” And so they have. When I first came, URSI had just adopted its new logo; 25 years later we adopted a newer one. The office I first came to was a lush (plastic) garden with an open office plan. Barrett usually sat at a table by the front door, and would advise students in the living room. Later we divided the space into separate offices, and you the alumni raised funds for a photo-mural wall (from a Swedish theology library, apparently) which has become part of our identity (I can’t tell you how often I have directed a confused student to “the office with all the books on the back wall” and their eyes brighten and they say, “Oh, I know where that is!”). Morris 112 was always our seminar room. Initially it, too, had a set of photo murals (New York and San Francisco skylines), which were replaced by pinboard so our students could pin up their projects for studio. The chalkboard has been replaced by a whiteboard, and the lecturer’s podium has been replaced by the AV console which hooks our laptops (and now our iPads) into the overhead projector that displays on the SmartBoard screen in front. And the slide projector is gone, replaced by jpegs from our websites. As space on campus became tighter, we carved an office for graduate assistants out of one side of the room.

We have always had an annual picnic. When I first came, the faculty and alumni would go against the students in a baseball game (and the students gave no quarter). The picnics continue, but the faculty are less agile now so there is no baseball game (we played bocce last year). And, although we don’t have the Plunge anymore, we still go on field trips and take our classes on field walks around town.

We have also continued Barrett’s tradition of publishing work with our students (Barrett, Roger Davis, and Mary Harty published an article in PAR on Managers and Professors, and Barrett and Ken Hartung published a study on Mankato/North Mankato called Building on a Healthy Rivalry). In the last year, for example, Emmanuel Boamah published a mathematical model for estimating parking demand, Smita Rakshit published a book chapter on New Urbanist Design for Campus Residential Housing, and Alex Cahill published an article on the impact of local government regulations on business competitiveness.

As the market for city administrators and planners shifted to the Master’s degree, leaving fewer career options for our undergraduate majors, we partnered with others to offer an undergraduate Certificate (now a minor) in Nonprofit Management and Leadership. Over half of our undergraduate majors now participate in that program. We also began offering our undergraduate major completely online (the only department in the College to do that). And we have continued the tradition of Career Day, when we invite you, the alumni, back to campus to mentor the next generation of planners and managers (and feed you lunch).

We have continued our tradition of working closely with State and Local government. URSI has had a close relationship with the Region IX Development Commission, going back to its founding in the 1970s, as well as with the cities of Mankato and North Mankato and with Blue Earth County. After Smith returned from his MLS at Harvard, he began offering a design studio as the final capstone for the graduate planning degree. In time, Perry Wood partnered with Aytch as they expanded the course to include studio projects that were not design-oriented. Now Miriam and Russell direct that program.

When I came here, URSI was tightly knit with planning and management in the State. We were the Secretariat for the MCMA and MCPZA and EDAM. In addition to Barrett’s outstanding service to MCMA, Perry Wood was heavily involved in the creation of the Red Jacket Trail and Mankato’s overall trail system, the Mankato Area Transportation And Planning Study (MATAPS), and in water and sewer planning for the Lake Washington area. Beth is developing a partnership with the National Trust to train practitioners who can manage Historic Preservation programs. Raymond, Michael Orange, and Russ are developing a program to train local government professionals in environmental planning and community sustainability auditing. A number of cities had regular arrangements with us for recurring, paid internships (for undergraduate and graduate students). In recent history, paid internships for even graduate students have been scarce and there are more schools competing for those positions when they are available.

At the same time, URSI faculty have been more engaged in national organizations (we are seeking national accreditation for our Management program, and plan to do the same for Planning in the near future) and even international ones. David Laverny-Rafter had several Fulbright Fellowships to Ireland (and Beth is exploring a relationship with University College Cork), and thanks to Raymond, Tony and Miriam have done work in Ghana. We are also exploring a possible partnership in Belize. Global is the new local—we have much to learn from practice elsewhere, and it is becoming easier to share what we know with distant places. Just as in the early days, we enjoy a regular influx of international students into our programs (although the countries of origin or continually shifting).

And, responding to declining Federal and State support for our program, you the alumni have established the Barrett Fellowship and now the URSI Leadership fund to fill at least part of the hole. We also took a page from the Roger Davis days, and have attracted a number of applied research contracts that provide assistantship support for graduate students—contracts with the McKnight Foundation, the Initiative Funds, Minnesota Council on Foundations, MnDOT, Region IX, Center for Rural Policy Development, City of Mankato, Blue Earth County, and City Center Business Partnership.

On a personal note, URSI has been like home for me and that makes you, the alumni, like family. We have had some fun times together—I still remember Barb Dacy and… was it Cindy Petrie and Mary Kaski?... serenading Barret to the tune of “Mr. Sandmann”: “Please, Dr. Barrett, please find me a job…” And now the alumni are family in another way. My youngest, Katriona, graduated from the program summa cum laude. And now she is serenading me!

I have always liked the lines from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, “We shall not cease from exploration/and the end of all our exploring/will be to arrive where we started/and know the place for the first time.” So let me end where I began. From my first classes here, I have taught my students the Athenian Oath of Citizenship. It is engraved on wall at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and I would not mind if it were engraved on my tombstone (the last part, at least). It reads, “We will strive for the ideals of this place, both alone and with others. We will unceasingly seek to quicken the sense of public duty. We will revere and obey the laws of this place. And we will leave this place, not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was given to us.” So may we all.