What’s In a Name, University of Minnesota

By JT Haines, April 17, 2014

Hail to Minnesota (photo credit JT Haines, of brother Tom)

Hail to Minnesota (brother Tom Haines and band at first Gopher TCF Bank home game)

Last weekend, I cheered the Minnesota Gopher men’s hockey team in their dramatic efforts at the NCAA Frozen Four. Everyone in my family has a degree from the U, mine from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and I get goosebumps every time the band plays the alma mater.

I proudly wear the M.

Today the University and Humphrey School are hosting a “Distinguished Carlson Lecture,” featuring Condoleeza Rice. In support of the event, which has drawn significant opposition from those who feel that accountability, context, and authentic exchange are lacking in the presentation, University President Kaler has stated that “we can’t have true academic freedom at the University of Minnesota by denying a stage to those we disagree with or disapprove of.” The Humphrey School’s Dean Schwartz added that Rice is but one of “about 20 speakers of differing perspectives that the Humphrey School will have hosted over the course of the year.” Supporters point out that the Carlson Family Foundation is paying Rice’s $150,000 fee.

Unfortunately, Condi Rice is, among other things, an intellectual author of torture, and the aspects of her legacy I find most relevant (and troubling) are, at best not part of the University’s presentation and at worst whitewashed by it.

In an open letter opposing the framing of the event, over 200 University of Minnesota professors say this:

“In that very spirit of free expression, however, and in our commitment to the principles of truth and the common good that are inscribed above the entrance to Northrop Auditorium where Dr. Rice will speak, we object to the circumstances of this particular visit. While Dr. Rice is an accomplished African-American woman, the advancement of civil rights – the theme of this year’s lecture series – is not central to her legacy. Indeed, as a leading national security official during the entirety of the Bush administration, she bears responsibility for substantial violations of civil liberties and civil rights that were carried out in the name of prosecuting the War on Terror. Dr. Rice is welcome to speak on the University of Minnesota campus, but let’s not ignore her record.” 

I agree with them. (If you do as well, please sign their letter here.) I wish that my school was, if not putting forward a narrative I could get behind, at least facilitating a framework of expression worthy of our name. Howard Zinn famously said you can’t be neutral on a moving train. I hope that we all have Howard in mind today because the Carlsons aren’t the only ones paying for this event. I’m paying with the M on my chest. And so are you.

Update: Good related piece in Salon on Condi at Rutgers. Well said.>

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