Just Asking Questions

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.

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.


  1. bruce85283 says

    If the MN legislature would cut the number of their seats in half, then they could have a less diverse work area. If this guy thinks that’s a good thing, then he should submit a bill to propose it. I wonder who in his area would lose their seat?
    No offense.

  2. Oggie: Mathom says

    As you say, like all schools, enrollment is down. And to Sviggum this means that UMM’s student body is too diverse? So being welcoming is actually unwelcome? I don’t understand. I guess I’m still not cynical enough.

  3. says

    By the way, if Sviggum does visit UMM, I wouldn’t attend (or, at most, would only sit in to record the event). I’m not politic enough, and I think our students would do an excellent job of making him “uncomfortable” all by themselves.

  4. cartomancer says

    Has anyone pointed out that enrolments would almost certainly be even lower if UMM didn’t have such a reputation for diversity and inclusion? Both among minority communities and among the majority, most of whom appreciate diversity in their community?

  5. Paul K says

    As a UMM graduate (1984), and a white guy of German and Scandinavian descent, this really burns my bacon.

    When I was at UMM, there was a major problem with a recession causing the University system to be hurting. There was a rumour — or maybe something actual — claiming that, if only the U would shutter UMM, they’d solve their financial problem. The community came together then, too.

    But this is on a whole nother plane. Just asking the question? If he doesn’t know the answer to that utterly disgusting question, he shows how horrible a person he is. If someone told me their kid didn’t want to go there because they were uncomfortable with how diverse the campus is, my response would be ‘Good; the school will be better off.’ Or, maybe more accepting, ‘Then the experience might be just what they need. uncomfortable situations can lead to growth.’

    And I only found out through this fiasco just how bad the enrollment at UMM has become. I’ve thought for a long time that the push in the US for everyone to go to college had gone too far; that a college degree had become just a ticket to enter certain parts of the employment market. So some reduction in attendance didn’t seem like a necessarily unfortunate thing. But this is BAD, and I hope it gets better as Covid someday gets left behind. I get that UMM, as a liberal arts institution, is pretty isolated, geographically and culturally, for its location. But it always has been, and it was the perfect place for me, and for thousands of others who’ve attended there.

  6. leerudolph says

    Raging Bee @ 5: “So, Sviggie, you were just asking questions. Anything to say about the answers you’ve got so far?”
    Hey, he said quite explicitly that he was asking questions, and that was all; he didn’t say a thing about listening to, or responding to, any answers he might get! Not his department.

  7. Reginald Selkirk says

    How many bodies does Steve Sviggum have buried in his back yard?
    Does Steve Sviggum prefer to have sex with sheep or with dogs?
    These are just questions. I don’t understand how asking a comment or question to someone makes them defensive.

  8. asclepias says

    I went to a liberal arts college farther south (Warburg College, Waverly, Iowa, U-rah-rah-rah!). I LOVED hanging out with the International students! When my grandmother (born and raised in Arkansas, though that’s not much of an excuse) came to my graduation, one of her comments was, “There are a lot of blacks here.” I said, “I guess? I never really thought about it.” It never ceases to amaze me that people ascribe such importance to this thing that I consider unimportant.

  9. raven says

    The enrolled student population at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is 59.5% White, 9.67% Asian, 5.21% Black or African American, 4.6% Hispanic or Latino, 3.73% Two or More Races, 0.352% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.0731% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders.
    Organization type: College/University
    Area served: Minnesota

    University of Minnesota-Twin Cities | Data USA

    The main campus of the University of Minnesota system is the Twin Cities campus.

    It is 40.5% nonwhite, almost exactly the same percentage as Morris at 41%.
    OK, how many students does UMN Twin Cities have?

    University of Minnesota
    Students 52,376 (Fall 2021)
    Undergraduates 30,734 (Fall 2021)
    Postgraduates 11,990 (Fall 2021)
    Doctoral students 3,957 (Fall 2021)

    A lot.
    UMN Twin Cities has 52,376 students.
    It is the 9th largest main campus student body in the USA.

    So is UMN-Twin Cities enrollment going up or down?
    In 2011 it was 52,577.
    in 2022 it was 54,955.
    Enrollment was basically stable from 2011 to 2022.
    Source: https://idr.umn.edu/reports-by-topic-enrollment/enrollments
    It is a graph that I can’t cut and paste the data out of.

    So UMN-Twin Cities is 40.5%, and its student body numbers are stable, going up slightly in a decade.

    This falsifies the theory that too many nonwhites leads to declining enrollment in Minnesota!!!
    The data says the answer to Sviggum’s question is just NO.

  10. raven says

    The data says that Sviggum’s theory that nonwhites at Minnesota universities cause declining enrollments is just wrong.

    I’ll summarize with the tl;dr version.

    The main campus of UMN is UMN Twin Cities.
    Twin Cities is the same as Morris, 40.5% nonwhite.
    Twin Cities is a very large campus at 54,955 students for 2022.
    Twin Cities enrollment in 2011 was 52, 577.
    Enrollment numbers are basically stable for the last 10 years with a slight upward bias.

    So why should 41% nonwhites at Morris scare off white students while 40.5% nonwhites at Twin Cities shows no such decline?

    This implies that the drop in numbers at Morris has some other reason.
    It could be that people are more interested in the urban large cities campus at Minneapolis/St. Paul rather than the rural one at Morris. Or maybe that it is easier and cheaper for people to attend because they already live there. In the large cities you can live at home or work and go to school a lot easier.

    Whatever the reason, the data says that the drop at Morris has nothing to do with the percentage of nonwhite students.

  11. rrhain says

    @12, raven:

    The enrolled student population at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is 59.5% White, 9.67% Asian, 5.21% Black or African American, 4.6% Hispanic or Latino, 3.73% Two or More Races, 0.352% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.0731% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders.

    That doesn’t add up.

    9.67 + 5.21 + 4.6 + 3.73 + 0.352 + 0.0731 = 23.6351

    Add the 59.5 for Whites and you get 83.1351. Where’s the other 17?

    Even the numbers for UMM are off:

    Asian: 2.3%
    Black and African American: 3.3%
    Hawaiian: 0.2%
    Hispanic: 4.0%
    Native American: 28.0%
    White: 56.3%

    That’s only 94.1.

    Is UMM 6% spiders?

  12. raven says

    That doesn’t add up.

    Good question.
    I have no idea.

    “The enrolled student population at University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is 59.5% White…”
    I just assumed that UMN-Twin Cities students that weren’t White, were not in fact, White.
    So 100 – 59.5% = 40.5%.

    It could be that the discrepancy is due to some students just refusing to answer the question.
    That would be the “decline to state an ethnic identity” or perhaps, “don’t know”.

  13. birgerjohansson says

    If he is obsessed with ethnicity, it would be fun to check his ancestors to find if there were some Black ancestor that later got swept under the carpet during the era when “just one drop” of black blood in the family tree was considered enough to be “non-white”.

  14. whywhywhy says

    Enrollment declines at smaller state schools (the large state school(s) is generally doing fine) is a trend across the nation arising from the following:
    1. fewer high school graduates
    2. reaction to COVID
    3. longer term trend of lower percentage of high school grads going to college (cost being a big piece of this, I would imagine the anti-education pressure from conservatives is also having an effect)

    Small private liberal arts schools are suffering even more…

  15. larpar says

    asclepias @ #10
    I lived 3 blocks from campus for a few years. 5th and 5th NW. I from the next little town south.

  16. raven says

    I just looked at another rural state school out in the middle of nowhere.

    Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, Oregon.
    This is definitely out there but it is also in an area of gorgeous mountains, valleys, and rivers. Very scenic with many outdoor recreational opportunities.

    Evaluation from February, 2022.

    Student access and student success: The 2,825 students who were enrolled at EOU in Fall, 2021 represented a decrease of 7.9 percent over two years.
    Since 2011, EOU’s enrollment has declined 33.3 percent.

    EOU’s enrollment decline over the past decade has been particularly concentrated among resident students, whose total fell 38.3 percent between fall 2012 and fall 2021. This year, resident (instate) students account for 65.9 percent of EOU’s total student body.

    Eastern Oregon State has shown a decline of 33% since 2022.

    Eastern Oregon State is also 26.1% nonwhite, 74% white.

    The available data doesn’t say that places like UM Morris show declining enrollment because they have high diversity.
    It seems to be a general phenomena among smaller state universities in rural areas.

  17. says

    Perhaps the other reason for the decline in white student enrolments is the sea of wilful Republican ignorance the university is located in. Republicans just don’t like all that education and critical thinking. It gives them a headache so they don’t enrol.

  18. Doc Bill says

    Glenn Beck: Just asking questions.
    Bill O’Rielly: Just asking questions.
    Tucker Carlson: Just asking questions.
    Alex Jones: Just asking questions.
    Laura Ingraham: Just asking questions.
    Ron Johnson: Just asking questions.

    Notice the pattern, Sviggie? We speak bigotese and we know exactly what you are doing with your deliberate provocation. I know you’ve been hiding in the Bigot Closet for a long time. Did it feel good to come out?

    Hey, Sviggie, tell your bigoted friends not to visit Houston. You’ll probably suffer an anxiety attack before you get out of the airport.

    Hey, Sviggie, did you know that St. Olaf College is 33% BIPOC. You went there, remember? Were you freaked out by all the BIPOCkery? You may be suffering from PTSD. Get help.

  19. Matt G says

    How is “too much diversity” different from “too many people of color”? Just asking questions….

  20. Louis says

    Quoting Sviggum from the OP:

    1) I don’t see asking a question is being offensive or wrong, it certainly, certainly not racist.

    2) I don’t understand how asking a comment or question to someone makes them defensive.

    3) I just simply asked the question. We should not be above asking questions.

    4) I was just asking a question. I’m sorry some found it offensive.

    You know what, I agree with a lot of that…

    …wait. Waaaaaaaaaaaaait…

    We will be playing a computer game style level based analysis of the logic used here.

    1) Asking a question is not necessarily offensive or wrong or even racist. Correct. Well done. Sviggum has achieved logic level 1, or “rather injured, honey drunk, dying bumble bee in a shaken jar of formaldehyde”.

    However, I don’t care if something is or isn’t offensive, it’s a red herring, a distraction. One often used by those of a conservative mindset with the underlying assumption that because they find, for example, dick jokes offensive, the reaction to racism is mere offence. A matter of taste alone. This is not very logical. Sorry, Sviggum. This takes away a level, he’s back down to level 0, or “house brick”. Congratulations. He can now talk to small bits of buildings in a serious manner.

    Equally unfortunately, a question can be a racist thing, and asking it can be a racist act, “should black people be accorded the same rights as white people?” is a racist question. Ignoring any moral concerns or the answer (or even what race is), and there are MANY, it is a question about separating people into a race-based hierarchy this is dictionary definition racism. There is an inherent assumption that someone can apportion rights on the basis of race. Tsk. This loses a level. Sviggum is on level -1, or “chiropractor”. Not good.

    2) I agree that asking a question does not need to make someone defensive. Well done, Sviggum is back to level 0. House bricks rejoice.

    Unfortunately, there are a couple of cock ups here. First is the assumption that a negative reaction to a question is defensive. From what I have seen the response to the question is offensive. I.e. they are correcting Sviggum’s actively, not to defend themselves or anyone, but to actively correct the falsities and illogic of Sviggum’s question. That isn’t defensive in the sense Sviggum means it, which is related to offense again. It’s gaslighting, “no no, you are not sufficiently emotionally stable to understand my sophisticated question, no need to get defensive”. Trust me, Sviggum, people aren’t offended, they aren’t defensive, they are schooling you. Say “thank you” like a good chap. This does lose you a level. Back to “chiropractor”.

    Also, one cannot “ask” a “comment”. Fuckwittery of that nature loses another level, down to -2 or “shopping centre psychic”.

    3) Simply asking a question is a good thing. Well done. No one should be above asking questions. Correct. Gain a level back to chiropractor.

    Sadly, “simply” is a weasel word. There was nothing “simple” about the question. It is importing a lot of assumptions. Also, 2 letters. TWO!? TWO!!!! Motherfucker there are thousands of students at UoM. Sviggum is not being representative and asking a simple question. Tut tut. Back to level -2.

    4) Same as 1). Lose 3 more levels for being an arse. This is level -5 Logic. Or “homeopath”.

    Teal Deer. Dude’s a racist. And a fucking thick one.