Oct 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm
ST. CLOUD, Minn. (KNSI) - It started as a ceremony to honor a new state of the art science building at St. Cloud State -- but it didn't end that way.
Gov. Mark Dayton was on campus Thursday, one of several state and local lawmakers, officials and other dignataries invited to turn one of the first shovels on the university's new Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility construction project at the corner of 8th Street South and 2nd Avenue.
However, several dozen protesters angry with the university's firing of admissions administrator Dr. Mahmoud Saffari briefly threatened to derail the event.
The approximately 50 demonstrators who arrived for the start of the groundbreaking ceremony loudly called for Gov. Dayton's attention to the issue, chanting "Governor Dayton, hear us out -- President Potter won't!"
St. Cloud State President Earl Potter has repeatedly cited state laws on discussing personnel issues for not disclosing more about the circumstances surrounding Saffari's dismissal. Saffari had served as the university's associate vice president for enrollment management since 2003.
As the calls begin, Dayton immediately came down from a raised platform of St. Cloud State officials to engage the protesters, promising to speak with them following the event if they would remain quiet during the ceremony.
Once order was restored, Potter touted the new $45 million, 100,000-square-foot science teaching and research building as a cornerstone piece of SCSU's efforts to foster more engagement between the university and Minnesota's business community.
"It will be a model for the kind of collaborative environment we want for our students in the coming decades," Potter said. "This is a landmark event in the life of our university."
The ISELF building, funded through a bond measure championed by Dayton during legislative sessions earlier this year, applauded the project as well as the nearly 1,000 on-site jobs the year-long construction will create in St. Cloud.
"I want to assure every one of our students they're getting the best education possible anywhere in the world to prepare them for the jobs and the opportunity of the future," Dayton said.
Once completed in fall 2012, the ISELF building is expected to house both classrooms and labs for upper-level and graduate-level science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medical technology and radiology studies. According to the university, research in ISELF will support Minnesota companies servicing medical, bioagricultural, renewable energy and animal science needs.
After Dayton, Potter and nearly a dozen others completed the ceremonial first shoveling of dirt on the project, Dayton was true to his word, hurdling nearby with the student protesters for nearly 40 minutes.
Almost a dozen students directly addressed Dayton, asking for his help in getting Saffari reinstated or to at least have his firing properly explained.
"He's the one who held my hand and brought me to St. Cloud and invited me to meet people and be a good student," SCSU student Walid Issa told Dayton. "For me to see him fired that way, it really hurt."
After listening to the demonstrators, Dayton told them that despite his lack of direct oversight of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, he would investigate the issue.
"I don't hire college presidents, I don't fire them," Dayton told protesters. "I obviously have authority as governor and I'll willing to use that moral authority that I have. I don't know the facts, but I'll find out the facts. I"ll meet next week with (new MnSCU) president (Steven) Rosenstone and share your concerns," Dayton said.
Dayton promised to relay the result of that meeting to protest organizers.