Faculty put $ against marriage amendment

More than 100 University employees gave to MN United.

by Bryna Godar

Faculty and staff from colleges and universities throughout the Twin Cities area have rallied to oppose the marriage amendment, contributing funds to Minnesotans United for All Families.

More than $64,000 was donated to the group this year from higher education professionals in the metro area, according to reports submitted to the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board.

Minnesotans United is campaigning to defeat the amendment that would constitutionally define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Voters will face the controversial issue on ballots in November.

“The government shouldn’t be regulating marriages,” said University of Minnesota law professor Richard Painter, who contributed to the organization.

“We of course have the law that marriage is limited to a man and woman now in Minnesota, but that’s changing in a lot of states,” he said. “I think that Minnesota needs to have the flexibility to change the law.”

From the University of Minnesota, 111 faculty and staff contributed $46,523.

More than half of this sum came from 37 faculty members in the law school, including the dean.

 “This is a piece of law that raises some very special questions about what a constitution ought to be doing,” said Daniel Kleinberger, professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.

Painter said because it is a legal issue involving the constitution, law professors are more likely to get involved.

Faculty from other colleges in the Twin Cities area contributed around $18,000 to Minnesotans United.

Only two university staff members — one Bethel University professor and a University of Minnesota employee — contributed to Minnesota for Marriage, a group supporting the amendment.

The William Mitchell faculty went beyond individual action and adopted a resolution opposing the amendment, voting 24-7.

In August, Kleinberger and other William Mitchell professors will try to persuade other law schools to join them in opposing the amendment as a faculty.

“Most of the professors individually oppose the amendment,” Kleinberger said. “The important thing and the difficult thing is to persuade them why this is a matter proper for … action as a faculty.”

Professors and politics

Professors said they usually share personal views in the classroom only when relevant to the material at hand and that their political contributions fall under the “personal” rather than “professional” category.

 “I’m very careful to not bring this up in class or wear buttons or any of that sort of stuff,” said Paul Bolstad, a professor in forest resources who contributed to Minnesotans United. “You’ve got to completely separate your politics from what you do.”

Political contributions don’t violate the University’s code of conduct for faculty and staff, and professors said it didn’t present a conflict of interest.

 “Professors having values are inevitable,” Kleinberger said, “but the responsibility, at least as I view it, is to keep those values out of the classroom to the extent possible.”

When it’s not possible, Kleinberger said professors should emphasize that differing values are welcome in the classroom and enhance the quality of learning.

Michelle Mason, an associate professor of philosophy at the University who did not donate to any political groups this year, said she will invoke her opinion in class to challenge students to defend their argument.

“I don’t think that the stance of objectivity is one that’s necessary in what I do, unlike, say, in the case of a journalist,” Mason said.

Professors said they aim to encourage discussion and analysis among students instead of merely sharing their own views.

“If [law students] can’t effectively argue their own views on something, then they’re not going to be very good lawyers,” Painter said.