Steve Sviggum is Wrong, University of Minnesota Only Benefits from Diversity policies.
Understanding history is a crucial part of policy analysis and problem structuring. Oftentimes, as we see a ‘problem’ in our communities or institutions, our gut reaction is to fall back onto what we ‘know’ to be common problems. Recently, the Vice-Chair of the board of Regents of the University of Minnesota fell into such a problem. While discussing the falling enrollment at the Morris campus at the University of Minnesota, Vice-Chair Steve Sviggum said that the correlated data with the decline in enrollment is the increase of diversity. He conflated the two stats saying that there was a 40% drop in enrollment yet a 40% increase in diversity. He made a common causality mistake but further relied on his ‘knowledge’ of diversity, as a bad thing that could deter students.
The issue is, the very same diversity he is questioning is due to a required policy at the University of Minnesota-Morris, one that offers free tuition to American Indian Students. The Sisters of Mercy, under contract with the US government, originally set up an American Indian Boarding school on what now is the Morris Campus — the Morris Industrial School for Indians, 1897–1909. The research done by current students at Morris found that there are at least three up to possibly seven American Indian students that died at the Sisters of Mercy school, and their burial location has yet to be found. The boarding school, in 1910, was then transformed into a general boarding school named the West Central School of Agriculture that operated until 1963 when the campus was established as a public liberal arts campus part of the University of Minnesota. The campus still has one of the last remaining buildings from the boarding school. When established as UMN Morris in the 1960s, federal legislation and state legislation mandated that qualified American Indian students could be admitted with free tuition. This tuition benefit has attracted many American Indian students, making up the largest non-European American ethnic group on campus (28%).
The diversity Sviggum is questioning is the increasing number of American Indian students. As Morris has cultivated an image of sustainability as one of the leading ‘Native American Studies programs and initiatives in the state. Morris has recruited American Indian students and tried to work on its reckoning with history. The school in 2018 has conducted healing circles and other programs to spread awareness. But if not done correctly, or if coupled with harmful rhetoric, spreading awareness of past atrocities might turn off the very student they are hoping to attract.
I have a firm belief that students today have more options than ever when it comes to college. Even with universities and institutions becoming more expensive than ever, students' access to the internet and researching schools, opens up avenues outside of Minnesota that students did not have previously. For the undergraduate schools, if you can get into the U, due to its high expectations and rigor, one could expect there to be many possibilities of other institutions out there for a prospective student. Many smaller campuses and schools in the Midwest have suffered to differentiate themselves and address the healing then transformation that is truly needed in their institutions to compete in today’s academic market. Smart students will go where they are valued, and n free tuition will not attract a student that doesn’t believe they will excel at your campus.
Morris needs to focus on healing, transformation, and differentiating themselves from not only their past but also what other schools have to offer. Sviggum assuming Diversity is the issue is a distraction from the problem, and also devalues the fact that Morris NEEDS American Indian students.