Carlson should keep out of tenure debate

In Jan. 1993, Governor Arne Carlson wrote the Big Ten to protest the officiating in a Gophers basketball loss to Indiana. It was a laughable display of a politician trying to wield his clout far outside his appropriate forum. Carlson was basically nothing more than an overzealous, angry Gophers fan, and he used his office (and governor’s stationery) inappropriately.
Now, at the height of fervor over tenure reform at the University, Carlson has once again stuck his nose into University affairs. He announced Wednesday his plan to appoint a three-member panel of “distinguished Minnesotans” to resolve the dispute. It is the latest in a series of Carlson attempts to influence University politics over the last few months.
In July, Carlson wrote a letter to the University asking it to pay legal costs for Dr. John Najarian and reinstate him as a professor. In the search for a new University president, the governor insists that he be involved in some way, though he has no legal entitlement to do so. He also complains about the selection process for the Board of Regents, saying he wants to be involved with that too.
The tenure issue has been on the table for months now, but crucial developments (read headlines) have come in recent weeks. Carlson’s entrance came as a surprise to regents and faculty who weren’t consulted before the announcement. This raises the suspicion that Carlson’s motives have more to to with political posturing than they do with tenure reform. Carlson’s move is reminiscent of his “get tough on crime” stance this summer when, reacting to TV news programs and a summer New York Times editorial characterizing Minneapolis as “Murderapolis” because of its rising homicide rate, Carlson ordered state troopers to police the city’s streets without consulting either Minneapolis mayor Sharon Sayles Belton or the highway patrol. Crime in Minneapolis, like problems with tenure, has been brewing for a long time. One can’t help but draw a connection between Arne’s actions and attempts to grandstand for publicity.
Carlson has indicated consistently that he has problems with the way the University is run and that his office wants more control. With this in mind, it is clear that Carlson will bring his own interests to the tenure impasse.
While the involvement of a mediating third party seems like a reasonable idea, a 60-day review period to discuss tenure with faculty and the regents will only draw out the process. The last few days have seen the first signs of progress in resolving the tenure debate. In a letter made public this week, Regent Jean Keffeler urged the board to consider withdrawing the regents’ proposed changes to the tenure code. Today, the regents continue closed-door meetings to discuss several issues pertaining to tenure, and public meetings will be scheduled in the near future. These developments hold the hope that the University can resolve its own problems without Carlson or his panel.
It’s obvious that Carlson wants badly to have direct control over the University, yet his power over University policy at this point seems only the power to whine and shout from the sidelines. Carlson is right to be concerned about the tenure crisis, but we can only conclude that his panel has more to do with a power grab than resolving a debate with long-term ramifications for the University.