Havre Daily News
He may have been here to listen to the concerns students, faculty and staff, but Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Tuesday couldn't resist the chance to speak about one of his favorite subjects - energy - in the sparkling new Applied Technology Center at Montana State University-Northern.
The governor spent about half of his one-hour afternoon listening session talking about wind energy, coal power, biofuels and diesel. He told MSU-N diesel students: “You rock,” and called diesel “the fuel of the future.”
Later that evening, Schweitzer spoke about the importance of facilities like the Applied Technology Center, which was officially dedicated at a ceremony Tuesday night, MSU-N spokesman Jim Potter said today.
In a wide-ranging session, Schweitzer answered a few questions posed by faculty and students, and spoke on a number of higher-education issues. His goal, he said, was to make post-secondary education more accessible for Montanans and more relevant to emerging job fields. He also wants to ease the transferring of credits between the state's four-year and two-year institutions, and make it easier for students to transfer to and from tribal colleges across Montana.
He called the state's Indian reservations an “asset,” saying more should be done to provide higher education opportunities for a population that is the state's youngest and has the highest rate of unemployment.
The governor responded to the concerns of Student Education Association co-president Karl Lorett, who said education students - who make up about one-quarter of Northern's total enrollment - “are not getting our bang for our buck.” Lorett said those students are not getting the administrative support they need at MSU-N.
Schweitzer said his continued support for two-year programs will not outstrip his support for four-year programs and instruction.
He said at the opening of the forum: “It's institutions like this one that's making a difference in Montana.”
He called on education students to “light a fire” in young Montanans once those students take their places at the helm of classrooms across the state. Schweitzer said teachers need to inspire the next generation of engineers, enabling the U.S. to compete with the technological know-how of countries like India and China.
“We need teachers to ignite our children,” he said. “If Ben Franklin were graduating from high school today, he'd aspire to be a rap star.”
Schweitzer blamed former state leaders and legislators for making higher education in the state a “low priority” and said changes in higher education are slowed by the seven-year terms of state Board of Regents members.
He told students he has little control over tuition hikes, but promised that his budget requests will include more dollars for higher education. The use of those dollars, he said, are subject to the “competing visions” of legislators and regents.
Schweitzer, who is set to fill a vacancy on the Board of Regents, told the audience he has not ruled out placing a faculty member in that position, after one woman questioned why there is a student on the board but no instructor.
He also said Regent Lynn Hamilton of Havre is one of the best the state has ever had.
Several members of the local business community spoke in support of Northern and its programs. Klabzuba Oil & Gas operations manager Cole Chandler said 50 percent of the company's local employees are Northern graduates.
“The real story is the talent that's generated here at the university,” Chandler said.