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Dayton hears students’ voices at Duluth education forum

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Alysee Shelton

Forum News Service

DULUTH — For all that Minnesota higher education has going for it, what it lacks is resources.

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That’s the message Gov. Mark Dayton gave Friday at a student-oriented forum at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Students and professors from UMD, Lake Superior College, the College of St. Scholastica and Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College converged to hear — and be heard by — the governor.

“This forum is all about the students today,” said UMD Chancellor Lendley Black.

Pushing for student aid, supporting higher education and investing in education were some of the things Dayton discussed. Though the floor was opened up to a variety of questions, higher education garnered the most focus.

When Black asked Dayton what he thinks is the most important issue facing higher education, Dayton responded: “lack of resources.”

“We haven’t provided the resources necessary for higher education,” Dayton said. “Without state-of-the-art technology and equipment, then students are not going to get the education and opportunities they need in the future.”

After making a brief introduction and answering the chancellor’s question, Dayton opened the floor for students to ask questions.

And ask they did.

The students posed questions on a variety of subjects, including: Why isn’t medical marijuana legalized in Minnesota? Are you behind Obamacare? And, what is your opinion on PolyMet mining?

Medical marijuana won’t be legalized anytime soon, since Minnesota’s law enforcement community and his staff strongly oppose it, Dayton said.

“Three years ago, I said I wouldn’t support anything that they don’t support,” he said. “I will try to find common ground amongst personnel and law enforcement. We will have to do more research on the use, accessibility, prices and more before we can move forward.”

As far as PolyMet mining goes, Dayton wants to remain neutral.

“I’m part of the one percent to remain undecided until I have all the facts,” he said. “Once I get the information I need is when I’ll make a decision.”

One student from Fond du Lac was curious to know what has been done about cultural diversity.

“What’s missing from cultural diversity?” Dayton said. “We have over 100 languages and dialects being spoken in Minnesota, people living here from all over the world, and we have tribal and reservation leadership.”

A couple of students just wanted to thank Dayton for all the work he has done and taking the time to travel to Duluth.

A handful of students walked out of the forum saying they felt hopeful about the future.

“I think the communication at the forum was nice,” said Emmi Lohrentz, an early childhood education major at UMD. “I feel like the students were heard today. I got the answers I needed.”

Lohrentz was among several education majors who had questions about the cost of getting a teacher license not being funded by the state. Dayton said he would work to find the root of the problem, and took down a couple of the students’ phone numbers to follow up with them.

“I think everyone was pretty respectful and the forum went really well,” said Casey Ostdiek, an elementary education and special education major at UMD. “We feel a bit more relieved.”

Dayton said that if a student wants to get in contact with him, he or she can write a letter, send an email, show up at the Capitol or give him a call.

“The student’s voices make a big difference,” Dayton said. “I’m listening to everyone’s concerns. The students need to know they are heard.”

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