The regent, Steve Sviggum, who who wondered if Morris was
too diverse to attend, is feeling a little bit of heat, I guess. He called in to a Minneapolis radio show to defend himself (or double-down on his comments, more accurately). Here’s a sampling of quotes from the radio show. See if you can find a theme.
I don’t see asking a question is being offensive or wrong, it certainly, certainly not racist,Sviggum told Vineeta Sawkar on the WCCO Morning News.
I don’t understand how asking a comment or question to someone makes them defensive.
I just simply asked the question. We should not be above asking questions.
I was just asking a question. I’m sorry some found it offensive.
Why are you such an insensitive, bigoted lout, Steve Sviggum? I don’t understand how that would make you defensive, and I’m sorry if you find it offensive. He constantly states that he’s just stating facts, but he isn’t.
Here are the facts: enrollment at the University of Minnesota Morris is down significantly, by about 40%. A larger proportion of our students are students of color right now. That’s a fact. It’s a problem that enrollments are down, but it is a strength that our student body is diverse. Sviggum wants to address the problem by attacking our strength, because he’s a racist idiot. The numbers are worrisome, I would agree.
Like colleges and universities across the country, the University of Minnesota-Morris has been grappling with declining enrollments for the past decade. Of the University of Minnesota’s five campuses, enrollment has declined the greatest at Morris, which has seen a 45% drop in the number of students attending from 10 years ago. In the 2011 academic year, Morris had 1,932 students compared to 1,068 today.
The greatest enrollment decline has been among white students. Nearly 70% of the student body was white a decade ago compared to 54% of the student body in the current academic year. The share of Native students has increased significantly from 13% a decade ago to 31% today.
Notice that white students are still the majority; also be aware that the demographics tell us that white America is approaching a majority-minority condition, and that’s going to become the norm everywhere. It’s nothing to fear. When we had a major educational grant from HHMI, that was one of the points they drilled into us, that we needed to address those changing demographics and be welcoming to diverse students if we wanted to retain a strong science community in this country.
If you want to address our declining enrollments, you have to look at the factual causes. We’re in a pandemic, which has hit colleges hard. We’re remote from major population centers, which made it rough for students; I have had so many students who have asked for excused absences because they had to go home to help their families, or attend funerals, or deal with their own quarantine. We lost a huge chunk of international students, thanks to the political situation and the pandemic, dropping from 11% of our student body to 2%. You won’t see many Chinese students on campus anymore. That is not a good thing.
Sviggum’s comments have become national news. Most of what I’ve seen has been supportive of UMM, such as these words from John Hodgman.
Years ago I did a show at the Morris Campus of U of M in February. I have never driven further thru a colder, bleaker landscape to find one of the warmest and smartest audiences I’ve ever encountered. These students are heroes. https://t.co/MbEhLiIYYC
— John Hodgman (@hodgman) October 18, 2022
Come on back, John, that was a great show. Unfortunately, instead what we’re getting is a visit from Sviggum, who will no doubt try to defend himself by saying he was just JAQing off. I don’t think he’ll get a friendly reception, except maybe by the College Republicans, who will demonstrate by their ugly existence that maybe we are a little bit too diverse in one way.
Our acting chancellor, Janet Schrunk Ericksen, has made a public comment on the matter.
Last Thursday, October 13, I gave a presentation to the Board of Regents about our enrollment and how it relates to the U of M System strategic plan, MPact 2025. The question and answer part of the presentation included conversation regarding the diversity of our campus and has resulted in media attention. I want to reiterate that our strength is in our diversity.
The University of Minnesota Morris is a student-centered public university.Our students are curious, hungry to learn, and open-minded. They come from rural communities, Tribal nations, metropolitan centers, and cities abroad. Indeed, multiple perspectives and experiences of people who have different backgrounds are absolutely core to education and particularly liberal arts education.
Our campus strategic vision and plan includes our commitment to enhance the liberal arts education opportunity for students from all backgrounds, especially those from diverse, first-generation, and low-income populations. I am proud of the Morris campus community and its inclusive voices, and I will continue to support our efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion as integral parts of our liberal arts mission.
I’ll just add that maybe one of the reasons we are at all successful in the current adverse conditions is that UMM is actually an excellent place for academic and demographic diversity, and we’re not going to change that, despite Sviggum’s pointed comments in that radio show about how maybe Minnesota needs to shut down a few universities.