Feeling pressure to addressing the growing unrest on college campuses, MnSCU issued this letter criticizing racism on its campuses. The letter was signed by MnSCU Chancellor Steve Rosenstone and the presidents of all MnSCU colleges and universities.
For the most part, the letter was essentially milquetoast, if not utterly vague. The opening paragraph of a letter like that should be used to rivet everyone’s attention to a crisis in their midst. Instead of citing specific examples that MnSCU is worried about, they opened by saying “Recent events on campuses across the country remind us of the ugliness of racism and intolerance and its painful impact on the lives of our students, faculty, and staff. Because we are not immune to racism here in Minnesota, today we stand together – as leaders of Minnesota’s state colleges and universities – to condemn racism and intolerance and reaffirm our commitment to our core value: our colleges and universities are places of hope and opportunity where everyone can create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities. And when we say everyone, we really do mean everyone.”
That opening paragraph won’t get anyone’s attention, much less rally them to the cause of eliminating racism and intolerance. Had MnSCU’s chancellor and presidents talked about the specific things that’ve caused protests to erupt at the University of Missouri and Yale University, MnSCU might’ve gotten people’s attention with this letter.
Outlining what specific things professors and students should look for would’ve been a great first step in galvanizing support and putting students and faculty on alert. Since MnSCU didn’t talk about these things, the next logical question from students and faculty should be why they didn’t get specific. Another legitimate question might be to ask whether this letter is meant to provide legal cover to MnSCU or whether they’re truly committed to eliminating racism. At this point, it’s impossible to know.
The scarcity of specific information suggests, too, that MnSCU leadership isn’t serious. It isn’t a stretch to think that students, faculty and administrators would like to know if MnSCU had been alerted to specific incidents of racism and intolerance.
Finally, the letter failed to address another key complaint rising out of these protests, which is universities’ attempts to stifle free speech. MnSCU should’ve cited what specific things they’re doing to make campuses inclusive without trampling students’ and faculty’s civil rights.