No debate transpires in silence

Administration suppresses the student activism essential to a politically healthy University.

by Nathan Whittaker

I am ashamed of the University of Minnesota administration as well as the Orientation and First-Year Programs office for their recent bullying of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) by means of a harsh warning of disciplinary action regarding their convocation protest. The threats reeked of apathy and were an obvious, gross abuse of administrative power. Three weeks of reports on local news stations were filled with stories regarding violent acts by student-athletes with little discussion of suspension, the repealing of degrees or expelling those students involved âÄî all of which were threats made to SDS protest participants. For some student-athletes, this is their chance; I hope reconciliation is achieved and they begin taking their education seriously. Regardless, it is not ironic that this latest debauchery follows an extensive record of abandonment by the administration of those under-voiced at the University. Movements do not occur in isolated moments of lived time. For many, there has been an atmosphere of resentment and anger on campus toward the administration for some time, but dare anyone speak up. The SDS should be commended for raising issues regarding student voice. This land-grant University âÄî founded during times of great conflict and great optimism âÄî remains mired in the legacy of exclusion and social segregation. Campus elitism and the dream of a few to become âÄútop threeâÄù continue to limit the educational opportunities for low-income, working-class, rural, inner-city, first-generation, disabled, immigrant students and students of color. In addition, the administration has an extensive history of aggressively attacking employeesâÄô right to collectively bargain and routinely stifles dissenting voices. Over many years, thousands of people motivated by the principles of equal access, democracy and social justice have fought to insure that this land-grant University remains a common and public good. Students, staff and alumni of the University must ask how it came to be that this institution has an African-American studies department, or Chicano studies department or, in recent days, the Access to Success program. These were not gifts from the administration. They were fought for by groups like the 1969 African-American Action Committee, the 1971 Chicana/o student protest, the 2005 General College Truth Movement and countless others. I hope there is a time when administrators invite dissent without threat, intimidation or deception. I invite a spirited debate. I encourage SDS to continue their work. There is no doubt the administration has many resources to impede student voice. The administration knows that with a four-year duration for most students, they can expect student movements to be ephemeral in nature. Because of this, it is critical to raise political campus issues to new first-years upfront, whether at convocation or not. It is also important for current student activists and all of us to understand the history of activism at the University. Nathan Whittaker University staff