On April 2nd the president of the University of Minnesota, Eric Kaler, will be delivering his annual “State of the University” address to both the campus community and to important actors in state politics and big business. Students for a Democratic Society at UMN knows that this “State of the University” will neglect the issues impacting students, staff, and faculty at the university today.
In response to President Kaler’s address, SDS will be bringing together students to highlight and speak to the work, concerns and struggles they are engaged at the university and in the community. Concerns like discrimination, inaccessibility and livable wages for staff and faculty who make our university work.
SDS will join other groups to highlight the work that represents their needs and their issues in a “Students’ State of the University.” The “Students’ State of the University” will be held immediately after the officially sanctioned scripted deliver of President Kaler’s media spectacle in order to highlight the growing gaps between administration and students, staff and faculty at the university.
Amongst the disparities we will highlight are responses to the typical rhetoric of President Kaler and his administration. Rhetoric about issues like “Campus Climate,” which has been veiled rhetoric referring to access, diversity, inequalities and safety at the university. In his 2014 address he stated, “Advancing equity and diversity is a priority of mine… too often, students of color come from families of limited means. Thus, a necessary step to increasing the number of students of color is to make the University more affordable.” However far from building bridges to communities of color he and his administration have held the line and even gone as far as attacking students of color.
Kaler stated that in order to achieve this goal, “the environment of campus could be more welcoming.” His idea of a welcoming environment has included white washing the diverse cultural centers that provided safe spaces for our diverse student body. It has also included ignoring the groups like Whose Diveristy? who have worked extensively to create an inclusive environment. Kaler has gone further then ignoring the group, he had several of its members arrested in a peaceful sit-in at his office. For Kaler, arresting students of color who work tirelessly to challenge the university to achieve his “priority” of advancing equity and diversity on campus is having them arrested in attempts to engage in meaningful change that goes beyond rhetoric and empty dialogue.
Kaler has also “changed” crime alerts, to exclude race, “in some cases,” and will likely trump this as an act of inclusiveness while being able to uphold “safety” as a standard for a largely middle class white student population. Despite this many students, including a group of doctoral students have highlighted that research has show race in crime alerts is far from effective and actually does not correlate to proper suspect identification. This gesture was made as a meaningless concession to those, like Whose Diversity? and others that have highlighted the impact of race as a description used in crime alerts for students of color on campus. Far from creating a “welcoming” environment it creates one of unwarranted suspicion of students of color from their white peers.
President Kaler also spoke about a “Strategic Plan” last year in his State of the U speech. The stated goal was to be “faculty driven” and that it was extremely important that “staff, students and stakeholders voices are there too.” Yet these voices have been routinely ignored. The university staff remain under-compensated and routinely have to fight the board of regents 3 minute time limit for their voices to be heard and subsequently ignored by university leadership. President Kaler has also done little to trim excessive administration bloat and golden parachutes while maintaining the status quo for the already outrageous tuition charged by the university. Far from “rejecting complacency” President Kaler has upheld it.
President Kaler and his administration have most notably upheld complacency in their response to research misconduct and systemic and institutional negligence. A review of these practices, including those that saw research subject Dan Markingson die in 2004, wrote that “weakness in policy and practice were evident and require attention,” adding that “in the context of persistent internal and external criticism…the University has not taken an appropriately aggressive and informed approach to protecting subjects and regaining lost trust.” Voices within the university including students, staff and faculty have been joined by a chorus of concerned community members including former Governor Arnie Carlson to publicly demand accountability and outside investigation of misconduct. Most recently at a Faculty Senate hearing many staff went as far as demanding accountability from the top, including resignations.
While President Kaler likes to talk about “Grand Challenges” and rhetorically wage a PR campaign to appease corporate donors and state lawmakers. President Kaler has upheld a “tuition freeze” as his great achievement for students. Far from making the university more accessible, it has maintained the status quo. The bottom line remains that over the past decades tuition has risen at outrageous rates, far exceeding inflation and mirroring increases in administrative costs. A real victory to celebrate will be when tuition is decreased. Further, Kaler and his administration have remained idol in trimming top heavy spending, offering livable wages and benefits to staff and their families, creating an inclusive environment for a diverse students body and they have consistently failed to hold themselves accountable for academic and research negligence and misconduct which undermine the very foundations of our university.
The time for hollow rhetoric has passed. President Kaler has proven himself to be just another scripted talking head that is unwilling to take the necessary actions to meaningfully address “Poverty. Social Inequality. Religious intolerance. World Hunger. Climate Change. Disease,” and the other challenges he highlighted in his opening remarks of his 2014 address. For those that are tired of such empty PR media spectacles to boost alumni fundraising and corporate donations, join SDS and its partners in our “Students State of the University” on April 2nd following Kaler’s speech. Let’s discuss the real issues and begin doing the work necessary to build a better, more tolerant, more inclusive, more accountable and more accessible university and community.
Join us at 6pm on April 2 in Ford Hall.