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Friday, June 23, 2006

Still more on the nickname

Another long and very well-done interview with UND President Charles Kupchella on the nickname issue is here. Hats off to Patrick Miller, the U.S. College Hockey Online writer, for asking such detailed and thoughtful questions, and to Kupchella for his no-nonsense answers. And a hat tip to St. Cloud State econ professor King Banian at SCSUScholars.com for the original link.

Scroll down; there are a couple of UND-related entries ... including this intro to Banian's post about the conflict between North Dakota's Higher Ed System Chancellor Robert Potts and NDSU President Joseph Chapman:

"This has to be seen to be believed. A state university system chancellor asks his board for a vote saying he's in charge of the university presidents ... and loses."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The 70 percent solution

Here's a very well done post that takes a critical look at the claim, heard most recently in the Grand Forks school board race, that if the Legislature only would live up to its commitment to pay for 70 percent of public education in North Dakota, all would be well.

The post notes that state support of K-12 education has, in fact, increased since 1985, even when adjusted for inflation:

"In 1985 state support per student was $1,755. Adjusting this figure to 2005 dollars, it would amount to $3,107. Rather than merely keeping up with inflation the state spent $3,419, a real 10 percent increase in state support of education since 1985."

The post then notes that by comparison, the individual districts' support per student has gone up much more dramatically since '85. So, the reason why the state's share of the total level of support has fallen is not that the state cut back. It's that even though the state boosted spending per student, the local districts did so more aggressively. The net result is that yes, the state's share of overall public-education spending has fallen -- but attibuting this to the Legislature's "stinginess" doesn't tell the whole story.

Then the post makes the logical inference that setting a "hard target" of 70 percent figure would be poor public policy, because it would license districts to spend money so freely. After all, each district would know that for every dollar it spent, the state would spend a little more than two. Not a bad racket.

And read the comments after the post for a great back-and-forth on teachers' salaries. Question: If a school district has enough applicants to fill its teacher vacancies, why would it even consider raising salaries?

I can answer that question, to some extent. The main reason why a district might raise salaries above the "market rate" would be to attract more and better applicants, not just those who are minimally qualified. Lots of people would accept minimum wage for the job of playing pro basketball. So why do teams pay millions of dollars above that "market rate"? Because the real "market rate" that the team owners are looking at is the one that yields a winning, not just a functional, team. That bids up the salaries of basketball superstars, and so yields the situation we have today.

In my view, it's in the public's interest to pay salaries that attract, say, dozens of applications for teacher vacancies, rather than only four or five (as happens in many rural North Dakota school districts these days). In any event, using this "number of applications" benchmark certainly is a better measure of the appropriateness of teachers' salaries than is the comparison to teachers' salaries in other states. Better from the taxpayers' point of view, at least.

Speaking of teachers and salaries, here's a ripe and unexplored area for comment: The differing roles of the teachers' unions in North Dakota and Minnesota. In Minnesota, the labor laws and teachers' right to strike gives the unions great power; in North Dakota, a "right to work" state, that power is moderated considerably. Which is one reason why teachers in East Grand Forks, Minn., pop. 7,500, get paid more than teachers in Grand Forks, N.D., pop. 52,000, I understand (and if I'm wrong about this, teachers, please let me know). Readers, any thoughts on and/or other examples of this difference in union clout?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

William & Mary's logo dispute

The College of William and Mary is appealing the NCAA's decision to censure the school's logo.

Two things about this case are notable. First, the logo in question does not portray the stylized head of an Indian man, as does the UND logo and Florida State Seminole logo. Instead, the William and Mary logo simply includes two feathers -- but that, in connection with the school's athletic nickname of "the Tribe," renders it unfit, the NCAA ruled in this letter.

The letter also declares that the school's actual nickname of "the Tribe" is OK for various reasons.

Earlier, the NCAA had ruled that the University of Utah Utes' nickname and logo are acceptable, too, because of the formal approval of the Ute Tribe's leadership. But click back and forth between William and Mary's logo and the University of Utah's logo. They're identical.

How can one be acceptable while the other is hostile and abusive? There's an arbitrariness about the NCAA's rulings that nickname supporters are smart to take note of, even though the NCAA itself is smart to point to "tribal support" as providing a crucial difference.

The other interesting point about the William & Mary situation is the school's formal appeal document. Written by the college's coordinator of legal affairs, the letter echoes UND President Charles Kupchella's own arguments and rightoeus indignation on the subject, and skillfully dissects the arbitrariness mentioned above. This passage is notable in that way:

"Because the NCAA has recognized exceptions to its policy and has now placed an official stamp of approval on uses of Native American nicknames, mascots, and imagery in the cases of Florida State University, the University of Utah, Central Michigan University, and Catawba College, it is sending a decidedly mixed message. Put another way, the NCAA is now a complicit partner in the practices it claims to condemn. (emphasis added). These inconsistent and illogical rulings also undermine the ability of rational and fair-minded people to understand and accept the NCAA’s position with respect to institutions such as William and Mary and seriously call into question the credibility of the NCAA as a fair and impartial arbiter of its policies."

So is this one, which attacks the NCAA's claim that by restriciting its sanctions to championship games, the NCAA is recognizing its member universities' institutional autonomy:

"The sanction imposed is unprecedented in its severity, especially when compared with NCAA sanctions in other areas. For example, a member institution that cheats in the most flagrant fashion imaginable – by violation of generally straightforward rules that are documented at length in the NCAA’s manuals – typically will face a sanction lasting only a year or two and applying only to the specific sport involved, with all other teams representing the offending school remaining eligible to participate in NCAA championship competition.

"By contrast, violation of the NCAA’s policy on nicknames, mascots, and imagery – which is not included in the NCAA’s manual and the enforcement standards and procedures for which are undisclosed – results in a perpetual sanction for all the member institution’s teams. ...

"In addition to the ban on use or display of allegedly hostile or abusive uniforms or 'paraphernalia' at national championship competition, in a little noticed provision of the NCAA’s policy, the NCAA Executive Committee recommends that member institutions consider not scheduling regular season or non-conference competition with 'offending' institutions. Simply put, the NCAA Executive Committee supports and encourages its member institutions to boycott other member institutions" (again, emphasis added).

In his Sunday column, Herald publisher and editor Mike Jacobs repeated the Herald editorial-board's suggestion of a two-year cooling off period, in which "UND would forgo the lawsuit and seek support for the nickname among Indian people." Fighting Sioux nickname supporters should adopt that plan, Jacobs suggested, because they should understand that "without the support of Indian people, the nickname never will be legitimate. ... even if UND wins the lawsuit."

I wholeheartedly agree. But I also think opponents of the Fighting Sioux nickname should support that plan, because it includes the key provision that UND abandon its lawsuit. Nickname foes should favor this because as is becoming clear, UND might just win this thing in court. It has a case against the NCAA, as attorney general Wayne Stenehjem declared and the William and Mary appeal document essentially confirms.

And if UND wins in court, then the nickname will be etched in the university's "cultural granite" as deeply as it is in the Engelstad Arena's flooring and walls. The situtaion will not be "status quo ante," meaning as it was before the NCAA's action. Instead, UND will have emerged triumphant from a risky and expensive battle with a powerful national organization.

I'd guess that such a victory would cement the nickname at UND for decades to come.

(Hat tip on the William and Mary news: SCSUScholars.com; scroll down to the 10:57 a.m. note for the entry.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

This and that from here and there

Coupla points:

1. The Grand Forks blogosphere really has come into its own -- and what fun it is to read and track daily! I'm so impressed by the lineup of comments on Tu-Uyen's site, Dakota's, Boyd Drive Follies, Grand Forks Life and the others that now seem to be popping up every other day. It's a tremendous addition to civic life here in town ... and it's just a matter of time before it becomes a political force, too. Was it a force on Tuesday? Well, no, I don't think so; I don't think local blogs have a "critical mass" of readers yet. But more about the election in a minute.

2. Real quick-like, I just want to respond to a few of the comments on my Dunkin Donuts post. To the readers who asked about the Canadian Tim Horton's chain, I absolutely agree: A Tim Horton's would be great ... I've had their brew up in Winnipeg, and it's terrific. In fact, Tim Horton's itself is a amazing business story: This extensive Wikipedia entry notes that "Tim Hortons has supplanted McDonald's as Canada's largest 'fast food' operator," and "holds 62 percent (!!) of the Canadian coffee market (compared to Starbucks, in the Number 2 position at 7 percent)." There's even a hockey connection, as the original Tim Horton played in the NHL.

AND the company has U.S. expansion plans "in the Northeast and Midwest," according to this excerpt from a 2005 Wall Street Journal story. With Canad Inns opening here, I'm guessing that a Tim Horton's in Grand Forks might not be far behind. Yay!

Personal to Tu-Uyen, who's not a big chain store fan, judging by his calling me and other DD and TH fans "corporate-juggernaut loving freaks": Hey, buddy, let me repeat: It's the coffee! I like the Urban Stampede, love its atmosphere and have spent and will spend a lot of dollars there, but gourmet coffee is ... I don't know, too strong or too bitter for me or something. Donut shop coffee is smooth.

Here's what you do, Tu-Uyen: Hop on a jet (using those new and lower Northwest fares that you wrote about), wing out to Theodore Frances Green Airport in Providence, R.I., find a Dunkin Donuts (it'll take you about 30 seconds), sample the coffee, then fly back here and tell me what you think! Take the Dunkin Challenge, mah man!

3. Now, about the election: I've got a theory that Grand Forks is a little like Minnesota circa 1975, which was about the time Time magazine ran its famous "Minnesota: The State that Works" cover story. The Minnesotans I've talked to say they remember that cover story as accurately reflecting their feelings about the state, because their dominant feeling they recall from that time was contentment.

And why wouldn't they be content? The schools worked. The city governments worked. The state government worked -- and the Time headline about this Scandinavia on the Prairie captured it all: "The State that Works."

Sadly, that feeling proved unsustianable. In the 1980s and 1990s, the public's discontent grew, fueled especially, I believe, by the crime rate's shocking rise in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and a few other places. That set the stage for Jesse Ventura and other twists in the state's political history, such as its current split between a liberal DFL-majority Senate and conservative IR-majority House.

But in my view, Grand Forks (and even, to some extent, North Dakota as a whole) has a touch of that "State that Works" mentality right now. I think the mood among most, though clearly not all, of the population is contentment -- not happiness, mind you, but contentment, regarding the city's good schools, low crime rate and overall level of decent and reasonable public services.

Think about it. This would explain the low turnout in the election, in that people generally are satisfied with the way things are and see no real reason to vote. (When they do see a reason, they do turn out to vote, as they did in the October 2003 special election on the water park.) This would explain why those residents who did vote gave a resounding "yes" to the status quo -- Mac's election being the important exception here, but one that's explained, at least in part, by Mac's Marine officer status and service in Iraq.

The theory also would explain why whole years pass between letters-to-the-editor complaining about Grand Forks schools or crime. Those things dominate debate in so much of America, yet they're almost non-issues here.

I agree that the local rise in property taxes is a big issue. But I'd argue that the ho-hum turnout suggests that, on balance, people think the City Council, School Board etc. are dealing with the issue adequately by moderating the taxes' rise. There's a problem, and public officials respond: That's what happens in a "State that Works."

So that's my basic theory on the election. Let the comments fly! I'm very interested in hearing what others have to say.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Herald's sale price

Before Grand Forks gets saturated with election-return coverage, I want to take a minute to highlight the importance of the Herald's sale price.

To my mind, it's a very strong vote of confidence in the newspaper and in Grand Forks' prospects for growth.

Forum Communications is paying $65 million for the Herald, a number that I believe is higher than most analysts had expected. You can sense its significance when you see the price for the other paper Forum Communications bought: $70 million for the Duluth News Tribune.

Why is that important? It's important because the News-Tribune is half-again as big as the Herald, and serves an urban market nearly twice Grand Forks' size. Plus, the News-Tribune now is the monopoly paper in Duluth, having handily dispatched its local competition (in the form of the Superior, Wis., Telegram and some other, smaller papers) some time ago by buying them.

So, why are the prices for the two properties so close?

An anonymous commentator on the Grand Forks Life blog (scroll down for the comment) suggests that: "1) The Forum wanted access to the Herald's new presses, (2) The Herald's other publications, such as Prairie Business and Agweek, have a lot of value, (3) Grand Forks is perceived as having more growth potential relative to the others, (4) Herald readership is more stable and loyal, and/or (5) the Forum sees an opportunity to lay off staff (i.e. like advertising, printing) in either GF or Fargo to compensate for the higher sale price."

I'd strongly agree with No. 3, the perception of the Grand Forks market. But I suspect our new presses (Anonymous' Reason No. 1) played a more modest role in Marcil's decision. New presses mean little if the paper that the presses print is a loser. Likewise, I don't think Bill Marcil, Forum Communications' owner, plans to cut staff here or in Fargo in order to raise profits. Read this very well done Duluth News-Tribune story, and I think you'll agree.

Instead, I think Marcil simply was impressed with the Herald's business fundamentals, and somewhat less impressed with the News-Tribune's. For one thing, the News-Tribune has stronger unions than the Herald does, making it less attractive from a new owner's standpoint. For another thing, the News Tribune also had a very tough competitive situation for years before it bought those other papers. As a result, the paper currently has a weaker position in the Duluth market than the Herald has in Grand Forks.

All of that added up to the Herald's price rising in the bidding process and the News Tribune's declining or standing still, I'm guessing. By the way, I think the Duluth market has absolutely great potential, thanks to the presence of Lake Superior and Duluth's proximity to the North Shore and northwoods. So the News Tribune is well positioned to soar.

As for Grand Forks, what should local readers conclude regarding this deal?

They should take note and be proud of the fact that Bill Marcil, a longtime observer of and investor in the regional economic scene, clearly is as bullish on Grand Forks as is Leo Ledohowski of Canad Inns fame. And, I think readers should be proud of Marcil's solid confidence in the Herald, too. I know I'm reassured by the news.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Dunkin' Donuts: Grand Forks, Update 1

Well, THIS is just about the best news ever. But check out the list of prospective cities for the expansion: "Cincinnati; Nashville; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Indianapolis." Excuse me, Mr. and Ms. Dunkin' Donuts executives -- but aren't we forgetting something? A certain metro area called GRAND FORKS, perhaps?

Memo to Sen. Dorgan: Once you've finished slapping around those Northwest Airlines executives and wrangling Airbus 380 service from Grand Forks to Paris and Berlin, how's about jetting up to Canton, Mass., for a little confab with Dunkin' Donuts' coffee-grinders-in-chief? Tell 'em that the great state of North Dakota awaits, and that in Grand Forks, they'll find 50,000 customers avidly awaiting the first ... well ... OK, 40,000 customers, who hate being deprived of their ... um ... Scratch that. Five thousand customers, each of whom promises to drink quarts of the hot ... Hmm. Five hundred customers? Fifty?

Senator, in Canton, you can tell the good folks at DD that one customer in Grand Forks eagerly awaits their arrival -- and that while one customer does not usually make for an attractive market, this one is EXTREMELY LOYAL and could just about support the whole franchise by himself.

Now, gentle reader, I know that you're asking, "Tom, what is it with this goofy Dunkin' Donuts kick? When we click on your blog, we expect the latest news on zoning ordinances and municipal bond issues. We don't want to read about your weird psycho-sicko bakery preferences! So get with the program, you big oaf!"

But that's where you're wrong, you see. Because my affection for Dunkin's Donuts has nothing to do with its "bakery", meaning its donuts. I don't care about their donuts. I never order donuts, and neither do any other DD fans I know.

It's the coffee.

The coffee is just unbelievably good. You've heard the way people describe different varieties of whiskey? You know, "deep blonde in color and remarkably smooth on the palate, and with lots of spices in its flavors (including cinnamon, allspice and black pepper), all overlaid by a hint of butterscotch and a light nutty flavor," and so on ... Well, that's that's the kind of language that fits Dunkin Donuts coffee. Except for the black pepper part.

Here's the bottom line. A medium DD coffee with sugar and cream is the next best thing to a coffee milkshake, except with, say, 50 calories as opposed to 500. Plus, it's cheap at around $1.50 a shot. What more could a guy ask?

Look, maybe this will explain. I mentioned that I'm from Rhode Island, and in Rhode Island (according to this story), there is one Dunkin Donuts franchise for ever 6,000 people. It's a "fortress market" for the brand -- and how! That's like having eight Dunkin Donuts outlets in Grand Forks alone!

Hmm ... eight? Yeah, sounds about right. Senator, your aircraft is on the tarmac, gassed up and ready to go!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Forum Communications and the Herald

Dakota is wondering, Grand Forks Guy is wondering, Rob at Say Anything is wondering, too: What will happen to the Herald once Forum Communications (of The Forum fame) becomes our new owner?

Here's my prediction: I think it'll be great.

I can't say that with 100 percent certainty. But I can say it with confidence, because the indicators right now are so upbeat and strong.

Here's why. Over the past 20 years, every American newspaper journalist has learned a crucial lesson: Ownership is everything. That is, the single biggest factor in whether yours is a good or a bad newspaper is not who the employees are. It's who the owner is.

We who work at publicly-traded companies have learned this the hard way, as Wall Street's astounding demand for profits squeezed us like a whalebone corset. In the late 80s/early 90s, the Herald had something like 50 to 60 people in its newsroom, I hear. Today the number is about 40, and the shrinkage is directly attributable to shareholder pressure on Knight Ridder -- because the company then had to transfer this pressure to its properties (that's us) in the form of demands for higher profits.

I don't blame Knight Ridder for this. Tony Ridder and the other executives did their level best. But from the perspective of good journalism, they were fatally handicapped by the fact that Knight Ridder is publicly traded, because that structure rewards moneymaking rather than quality newspapering. The two, we've learned, are not the same.

We've also learned, however, that there are three other ownership structures that tend to generate better newspapers. They are:

a) Ownership by a nonprofit or foundation, as at the St. Petersburg Times;
b) Corporate ownership with two classes of stock, which is the ownership structure of the New York Times and Washington Post; and,
c) Ownership by a benevolent family or individual.

By "benevolent," I don't mean an owner who lavishes money on employees. (Although I'm not knocking that practice, believe me! Hey, I hear it can work wonders, especially with newly acquired properties ... and editorial page editors are said to respond really well to the strategy!)

Seriously, I mean an owner who's proud to produce a fat, newsy, first-rate paper that generates, say, a 15 percent or 20 percent profit, as opposed to an owner who wants 30 percent or 40 percent and tolerates the thin, usually third-rate papers that deliver it.

To the best of my knowledge, Forum Communications falls into that Category C: benevolent family owner. I have absolutely no insider information about the company's profit expectations of its newspapers. But I do have a strong sense of and respect for the company's newspapers, especially The Forum itself. And, I've now heard Forum Communications co-owner Bill Marcil himself refer to those newspapers as "a public trust."

Those things suggest to me that Forum Communications takes its mission very seriously, and runs its properties with a eye to quality journalism as well as business success.

So: I expect the Herald to be a noticeably better newspaper next year than it is today, as some share of the money that has been going to San Jose instead goes to hire more reporters and get reinvested esewhere in the business. (San Jose is the location of Knight Ridder's corporate HQ, by the way.)

That's the bottom line, and I think it's a change readers will appreciate and enjoy.

Will another change follow -- that is, the Herald evolving into a North Valley Forum? No, I don't think so. Forum Communications tends to leave its operations alone, other than communicating business expectations to the publishers, as far as I can tell.

All in all, I'm very excited about the transistion. The Herald today could have been under even more extreme cost-cutting pressure than it already has endured, if another bidder had bought the property. Instead, Forum Communications won the bid, and so the talk here is of rebuilding and growth. Ownership makes all the difference.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Unanswered questions about Division I

I've reviewed the report by UND's NCAA Classification Task Force, which President Kupchella convened to list the pros and cons of a full move to Division I. (It's available here in PDF format.)
I'm very impressed with the task force's detailed compilation of financial information, and with the stakeholder survey that the members undertook. But there are social aspects as well to a Division I move; and unless I missed the references (which is quite possible; let me know if I did, task-force members), the study didn't look at the social aspects very thoroughly.

Take the matter of scandals. As I've mentioned before in Herald editorials, President Kupchella has said that when it comes to athletics, he feels as if he's died and gone to college-president heaven. In other words, in the past it has been hard for Kupchella to imagine how the situation with athletics on campus could be improved ... a feeling that makes me suspect he'll reject his athletic-director's "Go DI" recommendation, and will choose instead to delay a decision or stay DII.

But that's another blog entry. For today's purposes, it's safe to say Kupchella believes athletics at UND already operates very, very well. Why would he think this? For three reasons, I believe -- two of which would be put at risk by a move to DI.

The first reason is that UND already plays in a championship level DI sport, namely hockey. This brings the university a great deal of national recognition, although DI boosters say that attention would grow if the university were to play all sports (except D-IAA football) at the new level.

The second reason for Kupchella's contentment is that the current program operates basically scandal free. For whatever reason, DI hockey doesn't generate many academic or sex scandals of the sort that the University of Minnesota, University of Colorado (where a state Board of Regents probe "concluded that drugs, alcohol and sex were used to entice blue chip recruits to the Boulder campus," The Associated Press reported) and so many other universities have endured.

And DII sports in general seem to lack the killing pressures that can push coaches, alumni, players and others to cut corners and misbehave.

These scandals have cost a great many DI coaches and AD's their jobs, dominated sports headlines for years, resulted in formal Knight Foundation and other investigations -- and proven impervious to change.


Basically, "there are great problems in intercollegiate athletics in America, and while these span all the divisions of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, most scandals seem to be associated with Division I." Who wrote that, you might ask? Well, that would be one UND President Charles E. Kupchella, in 2002.

UND's NCAA Classification Task Force study would have gained credibility if it had addressed Kupchella's statement of fact.

The third reason for Kupchella to favor the status quo -- by the way, be sure to read his 2002 letter on this subject, which is linked to above; it's an eye-opener, and reinforces my guess that he'll keep things the way they are -- is that UND teams across all sports win and win handsomely at their current level.

Again, this situation very likely would turn for the worse if the school shifted upward to D-I, at least for sports other than football (which could compete well at D-IAA). Would swimming, basketball and other athletes and fans be disappointed to see their teams compile consistently sub-par records?

I wish the task force also had openly addressed this question.

One fact that the task force did uncover was the notably lukewarm sentiment among UND stakeholders for the move. Given that sentiment; given Kupchella's own skepticism; given the real costs of the move vs. the more speculative benefits, I don't think the evidence yet favors the change.

One final point. I believe the task force owes its existence to this clause in UND's Strategic Plan:

Priority A, Goal 5, Action Strategy 1: "Continue to consider optimal NCAA classification positioning for UND through the establishment of a task group to explore (a) strategies for influencing the improvement of the NCAA classification system, e.g., extending the opportunity for schools to split Division I and Division II levels of different sports as is now done in hockey, and (b) explore rationale, stakeholder interest, opportunity, and financial means to move all UND athletic programs to the Division I level as currently organized."

The task force addressed Item B in that strategy. I think UND's future might be better served by a renewed focus on Item A.




Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mayville State's future

Some thoughts on Mayville State's financial difficulties (congratulations to The Forum, by the way, for its well-reported scoop on Wednesday):

First, this is a very old issue in North Dakota, with roots that go back to the earliest days of statehood. "The following public institutions of the state are permanently located at the
places hereinafter named, each to have the lands specifically granted to it by the United States in the Act of Congress approved February 22, 1889," begins Article IX, Section 12 of the North Dakota Constitution. It not only mandates "a state normal school at the city of Mayville, in the county of Traill," but also locates the seat of government in Bismarck and state university in Grand Forks, among other pronouncements.

Here's Elwyn Robinson on the effects of that clause, in his "History of North Dakota" -- published, remember, in 1966:

"Unfortunately, North Dakota had too many institutions of higher education, more than it needed or could adequately support, an excess which sprang from each large town's desire to have one. Once established, the newer schools sought to expand their programs, to crowd into fields already occupied by older institutions. So they fought among themselves for students and appropriations. There were not enough of either to go around. ... In 1913-1914, North Dakota was ninth among the states in per capita expenditures for higher education, but overexpansion was robbing it of the quality of education its expenditure could have bought."

So, does this mean it's time for North Dakota to "bite the bullet" and close Mayville State?

Absolutely not! In fact, the long history of this issue works in Mayville State's favor, because it makes it much more likely, not less, that the state will step in to help.

Basically, this isn't the first time a North Dakota campus has experienced financial difficulties. Back in 1895, it was UND's turn. Here's Robinson again: "When in 1895, Gov. Roger Allin's veto of appropriations threatened the existence of the university, (UND board of trustees member William) Budge led in raising, by private subscription, the $26,000 which saved it. On one occasion, he paid its fuel bill ($700) out of his own pocket." And other institutions also have had their at-times serious problems over the years.

The bottom line is that the state Legislature and North Dakotans aren't about to let one rough patch spell the end of a constitutionally mandated state institution. One way or another, the Legislature almost surely will step in to help, especially considering that the state economy today is unusually strong. The landslide vote a few years ago to reaffirm the constitutional mandates fits in with this analysis.

But Mayville faculty, staff and students mustn't use this prediction as an excuse to relax. For there is one outcome that could ultimately threaten the school's survival: Continued financial problems in years to come. Sooner or later, the state's patience could run out if Mayville State doesn't turn its financial and enrollment situations around. North Dakotans don't mind subsidizing success, but I don't sense much appetite in the state for subsidizing continuing, long-term failure.

So: What Mayville boosters should focus on right away is hiring the strongest possible president for the school. (The current president is leaving to work at a university out of state.) The new president's leadership will be absolutely critical in determining the university's future. Can he or she succeed?

Well, Medora, N.D., bordered on being a ghost town in 1940 but is the state's biggest tourist attraction today, thanks in large part to the famous Harold Schafer. Of course Mayville's new president can succeed, if he or she has the vision and drive to make the college succeed. Leadership will tell the tale.

Thanks, fellow bloggers

A big thank you to Rob at Say Anything blog and Grand Forks Guy at Grand Forks Life for calling attention and linking to this blog. I read and enjoy both blogs daily (as well as several other North Dakota blogs) and am so impressed at the writers' thoughtfulness and sheer productivity. How do bloggers find the time?

As I e-mailed to Rob a few days ago, there's an old saying in journalism about the ecstasy and agony of writing a five-day-a-week column, the way the late, great Mike Royko in Chicago used to do: "It's like being married to a nymphomaniac." Blogging takes those demands and rewards to whole new levels. Another of my favorite blogs, Power Line in Minnesota, sees its three contributors posting fresh and fabulous material at all hours of the day and night ... and the Power Line gents all are successful attorneys with full-time, high-powered jobs. Again, so impressive ... though I'm sure it's got to be like being married to several nymphomaniacs, in some weird computer-journalism version of "Big Love"!

This perceptive column in Editor & Publisher, the newpaper trade journal, basically says "You ain't seen nothin' yet." Not only will the journalists of tomorrow have to throw out any notion of a 9 to 5 job, but also they'll need skills in video and other media forms:

"What seems to be becoming the norm in newsrooms these days is that a growing group of reporters, photographers and editors are now working in jobs where there's a wide variety of tasks to be done each day: feeding the newspaper's Web site; writing for blogs and interacting with blog readers; gathering audio for the website and/or radio partners; recording video clips; participating in online chats and discussion forums ... Oh, and writing for the newspaper's print edition."

I definitely can see that happening in the Herald's newsroom, and expect to be podcasting our editorial-board interviews with newsmakers soon and posting video editorials not long after that. Though a part of me can't help admiring Bill Whittle at the blog Eject! Eject! Eject! ("You're a former liberal. Your worldview has been hit by heat-seeking reality and you're on fire and out of control. You have only a few decades in which to react! Think fast! ... Eject! Eject! Eject!") Whittle does "long form" posts every few months. He hasn't posted since January, yet he's still being quoted. That's family-friendly blogging, the way it ought to be!