University of Minnesota
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Rivers May Need Universities; Universities Probably Need Rivers

April 14, 2015Patrick NunnallyEventsComments Off on Rivers May Need Universities; Universities Probably Need Rivers

The title here may or may not be puzzling, but hear me out.  Last week, we held our “Once and Future River” symposium about the Mississippi River, the stories we tell about it, and how climate change may/will/is affect both the river and the stories.

We had a great symposium, with lots of participation, thought-provoking questions, good food, and gallons of coffee.  In fact, things went so well with our discussion sessions that I did not have to give a wrap up talk to close the show, just said “Thanks and see you next time.”

But I hate to see all the thinking that went into the closing I had prepared go to waste, so here’s a short post on rivers and universities.

Rivers may “need” universities, because universities are full of researchers who can examine the river through scientific means and offer policy, design and planning recommendations to enhance their health.  The Dakota partners at our event, who reminded us that the river is a major part of that group of entities “all our relatives,” also put us in mind of the fact that universities are places where new ways of understanding and expressing those relations can come about.

But rivers don’t need universities.  Our campus has been on the banks of the Mississippi for roughly 160 years.  We’ll probably make it another 160 years, but the river is a good bet to be here ten times that duration, 1600 years, or until roughly the year 3615. The Mississippi River will probably be here in 3615; the University of Minnesota, probably not.

The University of Minnesota, like many academic institutions, is turning its considerable assets and attention to addressing “grand challenges,” problems defined by the community in which we find ourselves. The Mississippi River, one of the great rivers of the world, offers many potential “grand challenges” for our attention. It’s a bonus, of course, that so many people can and are already working on issues associated with the river.

Big questions–broader impacts–durable benefits: all offered by the Mississippi River and people working with it, and all ready for university participation.

Yep, we need the Mississippi River.

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