Hold the administration to its promise

Whatever its new name – the General College’s commitment to accessibility should remain intact.

I am writing in response to the Oct. 19 column “The facts: Strategic positioning” by Senior Vice President E. Thomas Sullivan. I am a teaching assistant in the College of Liberal Arts. Among other things, I help undergraduates with their writing assignments. I tell them that as a rule, no opinion piece should ever be titled “The Facts.”

I also discourage the use of bullet points, especially when outlining complex and contestable opinions. The ensuing grammatical fragmentation and incomplete sentences obscure the complex interconnectedness of issues.

The phrases “consultative process” and “open and public process” cannot be used in relation to the University’s strategic positioning initiative. If the General College becomes a department in the College of Education and Human Development, this will be the result of a poorly formulated decision that does not serve the interest of present and future students or the wider Minnesota community.

A situation where the students, advisers, faculty and even the dean of the General College were not consulted on the future of their institution can never be described as “public.”

Sullivan should ask himself: What opportunities did those who care about developmental education and the mission of the General College have to overturn the administration’s plan?

Strategic positioning was always a done deal. Shut out of the process, the General College students, staff and allies – the people who understood the college’s mission best – were compelled to stage a sit-in at Morrill Hall.

They encountered police brutality, arrest and trespassing charges. The president of the clerical workers union is facing criminal charges and economic sanctions for expressing an opinion on the future of access and education at the University. The University is home to some of the finest scholars in the field of developmental education – expertise left untapped. A General College professor has described the attacks on the college over past decades as an “academic lynching.” And now people are being told to keep quiet, not to associate with “troublemakers” and to follow the strategic plan – or risk their jobs and the entire existence of developmental education at the University.

This is not an “open and public process” or a “robust debate,” and no public relations campaign can frame it as such.

But let’s look forward. Since the spring, vice presidents Sullivan and Robert Jones, President Bob Bruininks and their army of public relations consultants have made the hollow promise that the General College would not be dismantled.

This management-consultant-inspired rhetoric flies in the face of the far-reaching, undemocratic attacks that entirely take away the ability of the General College to teach its two-year developmental education program, admit low-income, minority and nontraditional students, and retain its award-winning advising and teaching staff. But let’s hold the University elite to its promise and demand that – whatever its new name – the General College remains intact.

That means 875 students. That means a two-year program of developmental education. That means the General College retains the ability to admit students.

That means admissions criteria that allow high school graduates displaying nonquantifiable academic potential to attend Minnesota’s flagship educational institution.

The University doesn’t belong to the executives in Morrill Hall. It belongs to past, present and future students, its workers and the entire Minnesota community.

We can’t rely on the administration for the “facts.” Let us turn the University into a world-class institution – one that values education, access and equality.

Jonneke Koomen is a graduate student and member of the General College Truth Movement. Please send comments to [email protected]