Aquinas Hall in winter.

The Scroll: Observations From the 'Peanut Gallery'

With the spring semester underway and changes in the offing, it’s a good time to reflect on this venerable institution known as the University of St. Thomas: taking stock, looking forward, making plans, setting priorities.

Dave Nimmer

Dave Nimmer

To that end, I have some suggestions for the “powers that be,” whoever and wherever they are. Who better to offer a few suggestions than someone like me: with no authority, no expertise, no business card … and no responsibility for outcomes. I’ve spent four years blogging about the traditions and triumphs of this place; here are few obstreperous observations:

Put a new fine arts building at the very top of the To-Do List. The financial driver of St. Thomas is its undergraduate program and nothing is more central to its success than support of the liberal arts. And no liberal art is in greater need of its own space than the Music Department. The building also could house the Art History Department and whatever else we define as a “fine art.”

From the Festival Choir to the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, the music program is getting attention. And nothing does more to enhance the Catholic nature of St. Thomas than students making a joyful noise – especially at alumni functions and the annual Christmas concert.

Hold a second Christmas concert just for UST’s St. Paul neighbors. I read the letters to the editor in the newspapers and realize neighbors will always be complaining about students and their behavior – some of it justified, much of it unfair.

Unfair or not, neighbors’ perceptions might be affected slightly if UST would extend them a holiday event: a concert on campus in the chapel with, if not the whole entourage, a representative sample of choirs, woodwinds and horns. Students could pass out tickets to neighbors on the weekend following the Thanksgiving break.

It’s hard to be angry or resentful after singing four verses of “Silent Night” with a 100-voice student choir.

Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth but … be aware of its care and feeding. The new scoreboard is, indeed, state of the art and bigger than a garage. The football team is worthy of the gift. And I have no doubt the scoreboard can be a part of other events besides football games.

But the operational price tag causes me to take a timeout; I know it’s expensive to hire outsiders to put moving pictures on that scoreboard, even if the money comes from deep-pocket donors. Maybe students could eventually serve as photographers, producers and engineers, although I wouldn’t bet on it in the short term.

Put some pictures over the 90-second news updates on I generally like the job that does in covering the campus: quick to find a local angle, dedicated to fairness and balance. I also would like to see some moving images over those updates so I’m not staring at a talking head for a minute and a half. I don’t need a lot of video – just enough to at least cover a single story.

Give us a chance, sooner than later, to have a question-and-answer session with the new president-to-be. I know the selection process has been, by necessity, cloaked in secrecy and silence, given that some of the candidates didn’t want their names bandied about publicly.

However, once the Board of Trustees has made its decision, let faculty, students and staff have at the next UST president. I know it’s too early for specific policy and program questions, but it is the right to time to ask: Why were you interested in the St. Thomas job? What did the trustees and their selection committee members want to know from you? What are UST’s unique challenges – and opportunities?

Well, that’s it from the peanut gallery. I will not be expecting a follow-up report.