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Last Monday, St. Cloud State President Earl Potter spoke at a St. Cloud City Council study session. After his presentation, Councilman George Hontos asked him about the decision to shut down the Aviation Department. This post compares what President Potter said with Jeff Johnson’s response to President Potter’s statements.

It’s important to know that Jeff Johnson wears 2 hats that relate to this issue, the first being an instructor in the aviation department at St. Cloud State. The other hat is that of a St. Cloud City Council member.

Now that that’s out in the open, here’s the first thing cited in Councilman Johnson took issue with and his response:

“I (Potter) cannot subsidize the airport. The program operated at a loss. Its enrollments (meaning the aviation program) trended down for 5 years and the program operated at a loss.”

Here’s Councilman Johnson’s response:

SCSU does not subsidize the airport. Aviation students engaged in flight training utilize an approved flight training vendor, Wright Aero, at the St. Cloud Regional Airport. Wright Aero is a small business. It is true that aviation enrollments trended downward for a few years bottoming out in 2006 but then had rebounded upward through the date Dr. Potter announced the program’s closure which was September 2010.

This might be the most foolish thing President Potter said in his presentation:

“It was not a judgment that it was a poor program…it was a successful program.”

That doesn’t align with the facts that Councilman Johnson presented:

Let’s look at documented statements made by President Potter in chronological order:

November 10, 2010: Aviation was mentioned as a “viable academic program” by Dr. Potter to be cut in an SCSU campus radio station interview.

December 10, 2010: Video grab segment in a presentation to the SCSU community:

“Accreditors noted that and for two years no progress was made; accreditors noted the deficiency of the curriculum and for two years no progress was made.”

Keep in mind that in July 2009 (17 months) before this statement was made which was last December 10, 2010, the aviation department successfully completed reaccreditation. Some of our present and past adjuncts include a Benton County District Judge and a county deputy prosecutor. In the same presentation on December 10, 2010 Dr. Potter further stated:

“And it was my judgment that not only financially and programmatically did we not have a program that aligned with the core mission of the university successfully but it was unlikely that we would get there.”

The fact that President Potter can’t pick which lie he’ll use to which audience says everything. Either it’s “a successful program [Aug. 15,2011]” or it’s a program that “was unlikely that [the program] would get there.”

It’s one or the other. It can’t be both.
Here’s another interesting piece of information from Professor Johnson:

According to the SCSU Strategic Action Plan:
Character that reflects our region. St. Cloud State University will become distinctive by offering an array of programs that reflect the character of our region with a commitment to meeting the needs of our community.

1. Institutionalize our commitment to civic and community engagement.
3. Expand Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) initiatives.
4. Develop and focus strength on building healthy communities.

Did you know that one of my colleagues applied for a grant and won a multimillion dollar Boeing 727 jetliner from FedEx? This non-flying aircraft would have been based at the St. Cloud Regional Airport to be used for K-16 science and technology initiatives.

For example, middle and high school students would use the aircraft for learning how an aircraft works. College students in aviation, physics, and mechanical engineering could also use the aircraft for learning as well. The research indicated that St. Cloud would have had a student regional draw for a radius of approximately 60 miles for this type of educational initiative. The SCSU Provost said, “No!”

The availability of this type of opportunity should’ve been embraced. Instead, it was rejected. How can the SCSU Strategic Action Plan say that it’s a priority to “expand Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) initiatives”, then reject this opportunity?

Their statement doesn’t match with their actions. With people demanding accountability, it’s time SCSU started living up to its stated goals instead of just paying lip service to them.

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