St. Paul – Faculty, staff, and students from the University of Minnesota showed up at the Capitol on Wednesday evening to talk to candidates for the U of MN Board of Regents about the importance of soliciting input from faculty and students. As Regents awaited the outcomes of their elections inside the House chamber, University faculty, staff and students gathered in the hallway under a large print-out of the University’s mission statement and made themselves available to speak with candidates. Faculty decided to invite Regents into dialogue after attending the Higher Education Committee hearing, which they felt revealed a troubling disconnect between Regent candidates and the people of the University they seek to govern.
Many in attendance stressed the U’s land grant tradition and encouraged the Regents to defend this legacy from various threats. Harry Boyte, a Senior Fellow at the Humphrey Institute, observed that the land grant tradition means that universities are “owned by the whole people” and embody the idea of democratic excellence. At the heart of this idea is “that a diverse mix of people from many different backgrounds interacting and cooperating in learning and discovery can achieve greatness that a focus on individual stars and ‘the best and the brightest’ never can accomplish.”
This land grant tradition, argued Professor Karen-Sue Taussig, means that the U is not a business but a public trust. “I have become increasingly concerned that the administration and regents treat the U like just any other business rather than recognizing the distinctive public role the university plays in creating the kind of thoughtful, well-rounded and engaged educated citizenry that is essential to maintaining a vibrant democracy.”
The need to broadly educate citizens and serve an increasingly diverse populace was another recurring theme at the event. Student Alexandra Vagac noted that the U has a responsibility to provide a quality education to students regardless of their degree path. “When private dollars flood public education we begin to see situations like that of the Chicano and Latino/a Studies Department at the U, which is consistently underfunded compared to other ‘more profitable’ departments.” Echoing this point, Professor Irene Duranczyk observed that by “closing departments that embrace diversity” and that prepare Minnesotans to thrive in an increasingly diverse global society, “we are taking another step backward, away from our mission.”
In carrying out their duties, Professor Naomi Scheman emphasized that Regents should understand that they “are entrusted with the care of the University, and fulfilling that trust requires knowing about the history and the culture of the U and the complexities of the relationships with it and with diverse communities around the state, and protecting those relationships from being defined in narrowly economic terms.”
Faculty expressed hope that the conversations at the Capitol were just the first of many conversations with Regents. “Right now it seems to me that Regents mostly sit in rooms with administrators and digest reports and Powerpoint presentations designed to present a pre-packaged narrative about what’s happening at the U,” said Professor Teri Caraway. “Regents will carry out their public responsibilities more effectively if they actively solicit input from faculty and students about what is going on at the U.”
Faculty organized this event as part of their ongoing work to build a faculty union to increase faculty and employee voice in decision-making at the University of Minnesota.
U of MN Academics United is the faculty union forming to represent faculty and professional employees at the University of Minnesota. It is affiliated with SEIU Local 284, which represents over 7,000 education workers statewide, including the recently unionized adjunct faculty at Hamline University