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Accepting the “Axe Grinding Challenge” from the St Cloud Times
By Jeff Johnson, Ph.D.

Last weekend, I took another opportunity to grind my ax. I just can’t help it…it’s what I do. That’s because a freshly sharpened ax blade is much more efficient and safe. You will spend less time at the wood pile and decrease your chances of injury.

Not long ago, the Times Editorial Board wrote an opinion piece titled Our View: Johnson, set down your ax or quit council. It’s apparent that not everyone has an appreciation for ax grinding.

Let’s start this conversation with some additional background information about me. For some time, I had multiple responsibilities, starting with my responsibilities as an aviation professor at St. Cloud State. Later, I gained additional responsibilities as a member of the St. Cloud City Council. Because I was both a professor in St. Cloud State’s aviation program and a member of the St. Cloud City Council, I had a unique insight into things.

For instance, as an aviation professor, I knew the flight training operations conducted by SCSU aviation students greatly impacted the airport’s bottom line. In March 2011, the St. Cloud Regional Airport Manager Bill Towle was involved in an airport usage study. According to Towle’s report, 45% of the total airport operations (a takeoff and landing is an operation) were attributed to SCSU aviation students. One airport advisory board member said the results were actually closer to 49%.

As an aviation professor, I knew that flight training costs were paid by the students, not SCSU. Since the St. Cloud Regional Airport is under the jurisdiction of the city, it became apparent that, of all the departments on the SCSU campus, the aviation department had the greatest economic impact on the city.

An argument could be made that my dual role presented a conflict of interest. Perhaps, but does this translate into a personal agenda that benefits me at the expense of the taxpayers? The Times Our View editorial made this statement:

“Either stop using elected position to push his personal agenda or step down from council”

After making that assumption, the Times’ editorial board didn’t explain how I’d personally gain from the questions I’ve asked.

Although some people simply dismiss me as being a disgruntled employee who lost his job teaching aviation, there is more to the story. Although I have never questioned the authority of the Chancellor of MnSCU or St. Cloud State’s president to close academic programs (which are ultimately owned by the Minnesota taxpayers), I have questioned the fact that MnSCU policies weren’t followed in closing the aviation program. There were no public hearings beyond the university walls in closing aviation. In the fall of 2010, then-Provost Devinder Malhotra answered questions during the open microphone part of the University’s town hall reorganization meeting. Here’s what happened:

SCSU Provost Devinder Malhotra has reorganization hearings (Oct. or Nov.) with the campus community. During an open meeting in the Atwood Ballroom, Jeff Johnson asked Provost Malhotra if the administration was planning on consulting with community members “beyond the university walls” such as the Chamber of Commerce, business leaders & the public at large prior to closing academic programs because of the impact on the community. After describing the mission of MnSCU, Provost Malhotra stated, “No.”

Making a decision to close a program and then “informing” the public of your decision is disingenuous. MnSCU policy requires the university to follow a specific set of steps in closing a program. Each of these steps includes written documentation. Failing to document these questions is irresponsible.

Perhaps the genesis for the aviation closure can be traced back to the City Council Study Session on August 15, 2011 when a university official got recorded giving misleading reasons as to the closure. Despite the fact the Times is aware of this video, they have refused to engage in any investigative ax grinding. This post aptly captures a summary of the conflicting rationale of the aviation department closing.

In this post (February 2, 2015), it is readily apparent that confusion amongst SCSU administrators still currently exists as to how many aviation students were in the program. As of fall 2010, it was the 10the largest program that served students from around the world. One would think that a university with declining enrollments approaching 25% FYE over a span of 4 years and a Composite Financial Index (CFI) in the toilet would be willing to at least consider reinstating a high demand program. There is presently a desperate need for regional airline and drone pilots. In this year alone, I have seen pilot job postings for 13 out of 15 crew bases for SkyWest Airlines including Chicago and Minneapolis. Despite the reduction of air service to nationwide rural markets due to pilot shortages including Minnesota (e.g., Rochester), I have never seen a community like St. Cloud who has been so excited about getting and keeping an airline blatantly disregard the severe workforce shortages.

Back to the ax grinding. I grind my ax because . . .

  1. the aviation program was closed in a manner not consistent with closure policies
  2. the aviation program was targeted before reorganization began
  3. the cover-up and spin from videos and other media sources nauseates me
  4. students came to St. Cloud from around the world to study aviation
  5. there is a critical demand for regional and drone pilots
  6. high risk youth and minorities no longer have an opportunity to study aviation at SCSU
  7. Mayor Dave Kleis in 2012 was told by Chancellor Steven Rosenstone that he would not discuss the aviation closure but would be open to doing lunch
  8. military SCSU aviation graduates protect our citizens from terrorist threats like ISIS
  9. military SCSU aviation graduates protect our freedoms including the Time’s right to free speech in criticizing me of grinding my ax for personal gain.

According to the Times:

“Collectively, it’s clear Johnson has a personal ax to grind with St. Cloud State and MnSCU.”

What actually is clear to me is that the Times hasn’t investigated what’s happening at St. Cloud State. Why didn’t the Times point out that aviation students, not the University, paid for their flight lessons? Why didn’t the Time highlight the fact that the airplanes that Aviation students used for their flight lessons are owned by a small business, not the University? Why didn’t the Times tell its readers that it was Aviation students, not the University, that brought in revenue to the airport? I’m waiting for the Times to tell me how my work with aviation military students and graduates in protecting their freedom is personal ax grinding, though I’m not holding my breath.

Take the “Grinding Your Ax” Challenge

Grinding your ax gets a bum rap. It’s not for everyone. It takes time, commitment, fortitude and a thirst to uncover the truth. I believe in the saying “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” I leave you with this pearl of wisdom from scripture. Proverbs 27:17 in the New Living Translation says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Minnesota nice, PC silliness, personal attacks and emotional feel-goodism is not a recipe for solving complex problems.

So I challenge you to pick up your ax and take the “Grinding Your Ax” challenge. Grind it hard, grind it long, grind it openly, and grind it with American pride. Dip it in the ice bucket and watch the steam sizzle from the freshly sharpened blade. It’s inspirational! Besides, no one anywhere ever said, “I had a fulfilling day changing the world by drinking the Kool-Aid!”

5 Responses to “St. Cloud Times and axe grinding”

  • Jarrett says:

    BRILLIANT
    This should be “Our View”

  • Silence Dogood says:

    What’s clear is that the knee-jerk response to attack the individual has become necessary because they have no answers to the questions being raised.

  • Dave Steckling says:

    DOUBLE BRILLIANT
    May the gleam of your sharpened blade shed perpetual light on the REAL FACTS!

  • Wanderer says:

    Humans are strange. There is a big problem, affecting a whole community. But for some reason it is more important to “save face” by not admitting mistakes and changing course. Instead there is a tendency to plunge forward, committed to a destructive decision (or set of decisions) rather than to clearly examine consequences and reconsider in the face of new information. Let’s see, I am a leader and I say we cross the frozen river here. Oh, there could be thin ice, but I’ve already made my decision and changing it on the basis of the warnings and debates by others would make me look weak. Oops, the ice is cracking, but I am not changing my mind. The public press will believe and uncritically share positive assertions, so I am still looking good as long as I can tap dance on the ice. Oops, still holding my course across the river but 25% of the members of my party have fallen through and been swept downstream, including one with direct positive benefits, both present and future. There have been serious consequences to the community economy. Still, the press doesn’t recognize it as a consequence of any leadership decisions, so I am ok. So far the press hasn’t been critical about the impact of my decisions on the larger community. They still believe that I can get across, so as long as “belief” trumps “thinking” I am ok. I don’t need to reconsider, make an assessment based on the new information, and backtrack to a better crossing. This is starting to get to me, though. I am tired and despondent in my private moments. Maybe another dose of bricks-and-mortar activity will be therapeutic. Our income stream is devastated, we are financial straits, and the community is suffering, but the rationale can be developed and it will be a distraction from complex and frustrating internal problems. It will be ok, the public press has my back. The citizens, their elected representatives and appointed committee and commission members so far haven’t connected the dots. They don’t like bad news, but won’t make waves. It will be ok if we just stay the course and they believe what they are told.

  • Mike Sieverding says:

    I am proud to be a 1969 graduate of SCSU. I received a fine education from extraordinary instructors and gained many new friends. While at SCSU, I was always envious of the students enrolled in the Aviation Training program, and after graduation was always proud that SCSU had such a program. After graduation I joined the Air Force and spent the next 42 years working for and with Air Force flight training and simulation programs. I was surprised to have learned that the SCSU Aviation Training program was cancelled.

    After reading Dr Johnson’s excellent post where he not only ground his axe, but he also presented very good reasons for the program to continue, I’m left with a nagging feeling that the Aviation Training program was deemed too militant for a too progressive school administration, and was cancelled for that reason. Of course, that reason cannot be stated, as the administration would deservedly be subject to harsh rebuke and criticism!

    It’s a shame to see the program cancelled, and I think less of the SCSU administration because of it…unless they can give good reasons for the cancellation and address Dr Johnson’s reasons for keeping it in the curriculum. Dr Johnson’s list of reasons to keep the SCSU Aviation Training program omitted a critical one…flight training is very complicated, very demanding, but oh, flying is so darned much FUN!

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