Emotions Erupt at MCTC Basketball Town Hall Meeting

On Wednesday, February 17 an impassioned two-hour public discussion about the discontinued Men’s and Women’s Basketball Programs at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) dominated the Helland Center.

Last spring, the Student Life Budget Committee (SLBC) voted 6-2 to cut all funding for the MCTC Men’s and Women’s Intercollegiate Basketball Teams. Student Senate approved the decision, with President Phil Davis accepting the recommendations in 2009. “The President has made his decision and we have to abide by that, like it or dislike it,” said the Women’s Basketball Coach Keith Lindahl as he took the stand.

Since that resolution, many in the local community have expressed outrage that a program with a 45-year history that afforded disadvantaged youth an opportunity to obtain higher education was eliminated. “We’re all in tough times-we’re all tightening our belts because of the economic situation,” said Reverend Brian McLaurin, Associate Pastor of New Salem Baptist Church and MCTC Alumnus. “But in the course of tightening our belts, you’ve got to make sure that you don’t just do away with something that’s so valuable and that’s a part of your history. And that’s what I see happening, is that what we’re doing here is that we’re discarding, not just the history and legacy of this school, but a history that’s a part of this community.”

David Kraft, a former SLBC and Student Senate member who voted twice against keeping the program, publicly stated his regret, “I lost a lot of sleep over it,” he said. “45 years done in 12 hours just doesn’t seem right to me anymore.”

Members of the respective Men’s and Women’s Basketball Teams made brief appearances at the heated town hall discussion, voicing their frustration with the bureaucratic process that allegedly stymied their attempts to be heard within the student government, with one Women’s Basketball Team member claiming that she was given “the runaround” when she tried to join the SLBC and another proclaiming that her involvement with the Basketball program caused her to be openly discriminated against by Student Senate.

Community activist and current MCTC student Layton Smith, who organized the event, complained of receiving similar treatment due to his advocacy work on behalf of the program. “If you are a student senator, I have been barred from talking to you. If you are President Davis, I have been barred from talking to you. But you have an open door policy-there is something wrong with that. I am the only student on this campus who has to go through legal affairs to get a copy of any document on this campus.”

Although the focus was mainly on the topic of basketball, many other related issues were brought to light including allocation of student life fees, transportation subsidies for MCTC students, the school’s new health services initiative, faculty layoffs, disparities between transfer and graduation rates of white students and students of color and various other long-running programs that were cut in addition to basketball.

Many in the audience shared their dissatisfaction with the administration’s decision to eliminate the school’s historic basketball program. Those present members of the administration made all attempts to combat accusations of malfeasance, defending their actions with an appeal to reason and sympathy.

“There are 15 million dollars in the college reserve,” explained President Davis at the forum. “The college cut two and a half million last year out if its operating budget. The governor just announced another 10 million dollar cut to higher education. And for fiscal years 12 and 13, we expect three to five billion dollars in cuts to the state budget. So you’re going to have to tell me which college employees, which faculty, I’ll lay off to fund basketball and which programs we’ll lose.”

Student Senate officials were also present at the event, as well as several other guests including President of the Minneapolis chapter of Men Against Destruction Defending Against Drugs and Social Disorder (MAD DADS) V.J. Smith, MCTC graduate and advocate of the “Let’s Play Fair” campaign to save the basketball program Barbara Kruse, Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, local Minnesota State College Faculty (MSCF) Union President Tom Eland and Keith Ellison’s office, who stated that the issue was being “noted on a political level”.

“Now, I happen to call Phil Davis friend,” said African American Family Services Director and KMOJ talk show host Lissa Jones of her associate. “I sit, as he does, as an administrator in an institution where my decisions are not always popular. But I will tell you that he does have a heart for concern about the students in this school and that he is concerned about doing the very best he can for every student in this school, at least in his intentions, even if he is not capable of finding money for everything.”

But despite the open hostility and division at times, the event ended with a pervasive sense of hope and optimism. A petition to raise 118,000 dollars for the Basketball program before March 1, 2010 was drawn up at the meeting’s closure. “I want to encourage you to continue the fight, but we also have to put our best foot forward,” concluded City Council candidate and former MCTC student Kenya McKnight. “How we do it is more important than getting it done.”