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Letter to the Editor: Response to Regent Sviggum

University leaders should be better matched to address the needs of our increasingly diverse student body.
Image by Morgan La Casse

I am writing in response to the article published Oct. 26 entitled “UMN Regent Sviggum resigns as board vice chair.” In Regent Steven Sviggum’s question about the University of Minnesota-Morris campus being “too diverse,” the two words “too diverse” are doing a lot of work. Sviggum noted concern with decreased enrollment at the campus and that his question was prompted by two letters from parents of potential University students. The assumptions that appear to motivate this line of inquiry are essential to consider and get to the heart of the mission and purpose of the University.

1) It is implied the students avoiding attending Morris are white, and a campus without a significant white majority is uncomfortable for them. Currently, about 56% of the students enrolled at Morris identify as white. Sviggum did not elaborate on the letters he received. Still, the implication is the University is obligated to ensure white students are comfortable by creating an environment where most other students look like them.

2) In contacting Sviggum, the parents must be asking for redress of the issue of the campus being “too diverse.” Though we don’t have any specifics, we can presume the parents would like the University to disenfranchise students and parents who contribute to that diversity. The implication is the University should (mis)use funding from state and federal taxpayers to advance the interests of white students.

Sviggum has stepped down from his leadership role on the Board of Regents but plans to remain on the board. We should expect Sviggum, sufficiently chastened, will now become the leading advocate for students from underrepresented backgrounds. This should include Native American students, who comprise the largest minority group at the Morris campus. Sviggum can use his considerable political experience and connections to advocate for access, opportunity and social mobility for students from various backgrounds who may not feel well-represented by the current Board of Regents or the University leadership. Should he fail in this advocacy, it will bolster the case for appointing regents and hiring University leaders better matched to addressing the needs of our increasingly diverse student body.


Peter L. Morrell is a professor of computational biology in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics.

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