To members of the…

By Ellen

To members of the University’s Board of Regents: You hold one of the most esteemed positions of leadership in this great state, and I truly believe you do not know enough about higher education and this particular institution to be effective leaders. In every position of leadership I have held, the thought that was constantly underlying my actions was, “Will the end result of this project benefit my group as a whole?” Isn’t that what leadership is all about, making things better than they were previously so that everybody will benefit?
You have been successful in plotting what amounts to attempted murder of the academic spirit of this University. The best and brightest members of the faculty receive offers, some on a daily basis, to teach at other institutions. Many have already left. Your hasty and thoughtless actions are taking quite a toll on my school.
I also want to ask you if you are aware of the true meaning and derivation of your title — “regent.” The word comes from the Latin verb regere — meaning to rule, to guide — not from the verb meaning to meet secretly, or to undermine or to say one thing and do another. You are supposed to be guiding this institution into the future and advancing the role of higher education. The great Roman philosopher and dramatist Seneca wrote, “Nemo. … regere potest nisi qui et regere.” In English, “No one is able to rule unless he/she is also able to be ruled.” His words have survived millennia. Why don’t you take his advice? As the Board of Regents, it is your duty to serve this institution and the people who make it work and to uphold the values upon which it was founded. You need to know that you are ruled by these principles and ideals.
To the faculty: You are what makes this institution work. You must take the time to visit with your colleagues about the seriousness of this situation. I cannot begin to tell you how concerned I am for your futures at the University. I have many classmates who share this concern. Why do so many of you not see the urgency of this situation and allow yourselves to fall victim to the stereotype of labor unions? Right now, the regents see you as little more than bothersome employees. You are the labor in their eyes, and the only way you will achieve status of any sort with this monster of an employer is to seek collective bargaining. Doctors and lawyers have their own union, and I have yet to hear complaints about their membership in the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association. Why do the American Association of University Professors and collective bargaining frighten you to such a degree? Becoming a member of a union does not dictate the hours of when and for how long you can be in your laboratories or writing books.
Please come together in this effort. The uncalled-for action the regents took in passing a revised tenure code in a mere 30 minutes Thursday morning does not mean that this problem has been resolved or that the situation will now fade away. It’s just a ploy.
You have more reason to seek union representation now than before. I feel very frustrated when a class I need gets cancelled for whatever reason, but I know I will have another opportunity to take that class and my world will keep turning. I would find it unbearable if any members of the faculty with whom I study suddenly find their careers cancelled. My world would then come grinding to a halt. I know there are other undergraduates who share that feeling.
To the undergraduates: You need to know that we have as much to lose from this tenure restructuring as the faculty. Perhaps we have more to lose. The faculty would only lose their jobs, while we would lose our educations. I want to make a special appeal to my fellow Honors students. Is this what you expected when you came to this institution?
Many of us have had research projects with top-notch faculty, and just as many of us plan to pursue a career in education. I am not happy with this situation, and I am also bothered by the fact that our presence as an undergraduate body is being completely taken for granted. In fact, as I see it, we hold the most potent weapon in this struggle: our tuition dollars. What is preventing us from taking those dollars to another university, one that cares about its faculty and respects education? Were I not within months of graduation, I would be giving this option very serious thought. To the first- and second-year students at the University, take a good, hard look at the current situation. Nothing would hurt the fiscal planning of the University more than a mass exodus of its most promising undergraduate students. I would rather not see something like this come to fruition, but at the same time, I don’t believe it should be ruled out of the realm of possibility.
A less drastic course of action is this: Make use of your civic powers. The elections are over now, and the Minnesota House of Representatives has been elected. Write to your representative. The Board of Regents is selected by the legislature, and we need to tell the legislature what qualities to look for in a candidate for the board. In the Sept. 25 issue of the Star Tribune, a wonderful comparison was made between the University and the University of Wisconsin. The Wisconsin regents take the time to learn how their institution works before they try to lead it.
Let us demand the same thing from our regents. Children must learn how to walk before they can learn to run, and a regent should learn the traditions and history of their institution before they can lead it effectively.
On Cyrus Northrop Memorial Auditorium, it says, “The University of Minnesota: founded in the faith that men are ennobled by understanding, dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth, devoted to the instruction of youth and the welfare of the state.” Tell your state representative that we need regents who believe in that statement.
Finally, to the residents of Minnesota: You have really received the short end of this catastrophe. Do you know how many hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars were spent by the board in hiring consultative firms to study the tenure situation?
Many of you are alumni of the University. I’m sure many of you have extraordinarily fond memories of your time here in Minneapolis and St. Paul and have seen this institution in better shape than it is now. Let me ask you this: When you come back for Homecoming events knowing that your alma mater is on a one-way course of destruction unless something is done, don’t you feel even the least bit upset? You, too, have more than enough reason to be concerned, and you should write to your state representatives, also. Nobody in the state of Minnesota is exempt from feeling the impact of the tenure situation at the University. The University is supposed to be the pride and joy of Minnesota, in the classroom and on the playing fields.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the University blazing a trail into the next millennium, with a group of 12 trustworthy, responsible and learned individuals at the helm? Speak up, Minnesota; let yourselves be heard! Listen up, Board of Regents; please give us back our school!
Ellen Sassenberg is a seniorstudying Latin and English.