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COL In today's economy, wake up running

By Merlin Ricklefs

The Rochester Higher Education Development Committee, established by the 2005 session of the Minnesota Legislature, has completed and presented its report. The committee's recommendation for a "new university" is to expand the presence of the University of Minnesota in Rochester.

The proposal creates a research based industry-government partnership to serve the advanced educational needs of the community. This would complement the world-class medical science, computing technology and other business developments of the region; add value to the economic growth of the state of Minnesota and help ensure the competitive leadership of our nation. It recognizes and addresses the fact that today's social and economic issues are global in scope and too complex for any one organization to address alone.

Thomas L. Friedman in his recent book "The World is Flat" describes a global competitive playing field that is being leveled. He writes: "The world is now connecting all the knowledge centers on the planet together into a single global network which could usher in an amazing era of prosperity and innovation."

But Friedman also cautions, "the world is being leveled in a way that also draws in and super-empowers the elements of a whole new group of angry, frustrated and humiliated men and women."

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This means, that in the 21st century, to be locally successful, and maybe even survive, we must become globally competitive.

If we were to liken the events of the real world to a game, it is apparent that our global competitors and global enemies are not playing by the simple rules of musical chairs or checkers, but are focused on perfecting the more complex, strategic and demanding game of chess.

Therefore, as this 21st century chess game proceeds it is important we recognize that southeastern Minnesota, even with its world-renowned capabilities, is at a competitive disadvantage because we are missing --and have been missing for some time -- important and powerful pieces in our chess set. Our missing higher education focus on graduate programs and academic research with a directly supporting structure of undergraduate and administrative capabilities. The University of Minnesota is uniquely and deliberately missioned to deliver that capability.

Professor Richard Hodgetts, recently deceased professor of Management and International Business at Florida International University, describes our global competitive challenge in a different way. He wrote:

"Every morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning in Africa a lion wakes up.

It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve.

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It doesn't matter if you are a lion or a gazelle when the sun comes up, you had better be running."

If southeastern Minnesota is represented in this story by the gazelle in a world of lions, and the four legs of this gazelle are Mayo Clinic, IBM, the multitude of stable and entrepreneurial businesses in the region, and our educational institutions as we know them today, we are running with a short leg.

We have an outstanding Rochester and Community and Technical College with its open enrollment mission and programs for general college, vocational training and workforce development. We also have a nationally recognized, more competitive Winona State University that has demonstrated leadership in integrating quality leadership practices and cost performance into four-year baccalaureate degree programs. But to complete that final leg we are missing the added strength and stimulation that can only come from a stronger presence of the University of Minnesota and its assigned mission for outreach and its assigned mission to deliver highly competitive graduate and research programs within the state of Minnesota.

Somewhere out there, we can expect we will soon find faster lions. We should also expect they are learning how to play a great game of chess. I recommend we as a community and a state understand and support the recommendations of the committee and get our game together while we still have the opportunity to be a leader in the game.

Merlin J. Ricklefs is a retired IBMer whose jobs included leadership roles with Research, Headquarters and Rochester. More recently he has been the 3M McKnight Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and teaches and lectures at several leading universities worldwide.

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