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Philip Raup: University Giant for Minnesota and the World

July 29, 2011 By Lee Egerstrom, Economic Development Fellow

For nearly 60 years, whenever Minnesota community leaders, investors or public policymakers wanted to rationalize economic development plans, they knew they could call and get straight talk from an agricultural and applied economist at the University of Minnesota.

Colleagues, friends, and family will celebrate this candor at a Sunday funeral service for Philip M. Raup, 97, a professor at the University from 1953 to 1984 who remained available to anyone seeking his wisdom long into retirement.

Along the way, he mentored new faculty at the university and mentored graduate students who have gone on to be leaders in development and academics throughout the world. He also helped guide community leaders and journalists in Minnesota who wanted to know if it made economic sense to build factories or start businesses in various communities.

“We’ve lost more than a mentor, although we should all have such a long, rich life,” recalled Steve Taff, an applied economist who succeeded Raup in continuing land economics studies at the university that are helpful to farmers, lenders, county government and school district officials, among others.

Raup reached out to make new faculty feel welcome, Taff said. And he was a one-person orientation service on how the university and state worked, just as he was an expert on the state’s economy and land use who would help fellow faculty in their work.

For Minnesota-based journalists during the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, a quick call to Raup could produce five good reasons why community or state economic development plans either made sense or would be a fruitless exercise in chasing smokestacks.

He was especially keen to spotting upstream and downstream connections to a proposed project, which we generally refer to as “value added” economic activity.

Despite these deep roots in Minnesota’s economy and institutions, Raup was an internationally recognized expert in land use planning that is central to economic development.

Raup was already recognized as a world leader in land use planning and agricultural development in the 1950s. A United Nations agency contacted him during a period of famine in the Horn of Africa and had Raup assemble a team of experts to travel to Ethiopia to help Emperor Haile Selassie and international aid groups cope with widespread drought, recalled Gary DeCramer, director of the Humphrey School's mid-career Master of Public Affairs program.

Upon arrival, palace officials greeted the international team, turned them over to a friend of the emperor’s—a major land baron—who then took them on tours of communities around Addis Ababa where they visited farms, factories, and warehouses, and homes with the baron’s wives and children.

About 20 years later, drought was again ravishing northern Africa. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) called on Raup to reassemble a team for Ethiopia. It was again turned over to the same land baron. Visits to the same farms and factories went quicker on this trip, and a Canadian expert who was part of the first group couldn’t resist asking what happened to the baron’s wives and children.

His response: “I bought tractors.”

So, as recently as this week, DeCramer said, he used a Raup anecdote to teach sweeping lessons in technology adaptation, rural economics and the value of child labor, the role of women in undeveloped lands, and sociology. It all connects to what’s currently happening in Somalia.

And, if any of the Humphrey Institute’s graduate students even needed it, Raup offered a political science lesson to explain why a 1974 revolution toppled the Ethiopian regime.

Saluting Raup for what he did for Minnesota and, indeed, for the world would justify attention by Minnesota 2020. But here are legacy issues that should not be ignored by Minnesotans.

Raup helped mentor colleagues within his department and elsewhere at the University of Minnesota who continue to provide great service to the state and the entire world. He touched the lives of two generations of educators and policymakers who struggle with the never ending race to match populations with resources, and to do so in the most efficient ways.

Continuing this work is under threat by short-sighted political leaders who are cutting budgets and programs at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system. This threatens our important research and education institutions’ ability to recruit the best faculties and students.

What we all should have learned from Phil Raup is this: We cannot replace top quality human resources with such basic technology as tractors.

Information about memorial services and an obituary from the family can be found at the UMN website.

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