An Analysis of Institutional Failure in a Time of Crises
(Issued on August 8, 2020)
In light of the coronavirus pandemic and the racial uprisings following the murder of George Floyd, we offer a brief analysis of institutional failures at St. Olaf College during this moment of national crises. We examine the reasoning and planning for reopening amid the pandemic using the United Nations model for “institutional resilience” during times of crises. We specifically utilize their model of having “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable mechanisms” in place as a means of guaranteeing institutional resiliency. To this end, we conclude by briefly analyzing how the College has also articulated its antiracist policies in light of this resiliency model.
The strength of an institution can be measured in its ability to overcome crises by adapting to evolving situations while fulfilling its assigned mission. As the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs explains in a recent analysis on institutional resilience during the coronavirus pandemic: “[Institutions] have innovatively responded to ensure that transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable mechanisms continue to govern the functioning of government processes and organizations, thus increasing the resilience of institutions to shocks such as the coronavirus pandemic.” This model of having “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable mechanisms” in place as a means of ensuring institutional functionality during a time of crisis (i.e., resiliency) is a thesis we’d like to analyze in the context of St. Olaf College. Prior to examining the success or failure of these mechanisms at the College, it is helpful to first contextualize our understanding of crisis and failure.
During a historic moment of racial reckoning, the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the increasing rates of unemployment that have resulted from poor administrative leadership, have made it all too apparent that the United States government, as an institution, has failed. It initially failed in adequately preparing for a pandemic that government experts warned would eventually reach the U.S., just as it continues to fail in providing the necessary equipment to frontline medical workers. This failure has resulted in a dramatic economic collapse that has rendered millions of Americans unemployed and without health benefits, this latter point indicating another major failure to provide sustained relief to the millions of people currently in need of financial assistance. Moreover, the deployment of federal troops to U.S. cities as a means of “dominating” the antiracist protests against police violence arising from the murder of George Floyd only highlights the contempt this administration has for both racial equality and democratic freedoms. In summary, it is no secret that the institution we know as the United States government has failed to meet the challenges of 2020. And while it is easier to highlight the obvious shortcomings of a national government, it is equally important to understand the institutional failures that take place in our immediate communities, for these usually prove to be indicative of the logic that underlies larger institutional catastrophes like those of the U.S. government in 2020.
Best intentions aside, the decisions, plans, and protocols that have been instituted by the College to address the various crises of 2020 have proven to be either ineffectual, problematic, or a recycling of previously failed policies. The response to the pandemic is one of two scenarios—the other being the ongoing, failed attempts at antiracist systemic change—that highlight the College’s unwillingness or seeming inability to establish “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable mechanisms” to address potential challenges as a united community. Instead, the corporate, top-down model the College employs in times of crisis (i.e., a Business Administration approach) seems to worsen rather than alleviate community concerns, fears, and frustrations, thus underscoring a pattern of institutional failure and neglect at the highest levels of the College’s leadership, from the Board of Regents on down.
Reopening Planning during a Pandemic: A Failure from the Start
The first case in point concerns the college’s pandemic planning. A Coronavirus Response Team, which included only one, non-elected faculty member, was appointed by President Anderson in late February, with little explanation around the formation of the group or justification for the selection of the individuals appointed. As his email notes, the Team was tasked “to plan for how to respond should there be an outbreak of the virus on campus, to stay abreast of developments with the virus, and to communicate with the campus and our other key constituencies about our plans.” The Team’s “charge” was also outlined in the President’s email:
- To develop a plan for the College to respond to an outbreak of coronavirus on campus
- To scale the plan for different levels of outbreak
- To consult with units on campus who need to be part of creating and executing this plan
- In developing this plan, to stay current on advisory notices and warnings from public health officials, government offices, and other appropriate sources
- To develop and execute a communication strategy for key constituents regarding the College’s planning for an outbreak of Coronavirus on campus
- To report regularly to the President
The email suggests that the aim of the group is having “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable mechanisms” in place as a means of ensuring institutional functionality during a time of crisis–like those outlined in the U.N.’s report. However, all this was undermined by the highly selective nature of the Coronavirus Response Team and the poorly planned execution of their charges. Simply stated, the pandemic proved too much for this limited task force, as the outbreak spread too quickly, even as it spared the campus population for the most part; there was no “scaling” as the College transitioned hurriedly to online instruction only a month later; there was no logic explaining which “units” were necessary for such planning, nor was there a definition or explanation of “necessity” (faculty were mostly sidelined during this process, thus rendered unnecessary); while Carleton made the scientifically informed decision to transition to online teaching as soon as possible, despite what state officials were reporting, St. Olaf intentionally waited for state health services to compel the College to go online, thus granting it a “public relations” defense against disappointed students and families (the latter, along with “big donors,” being the “key constituencies” the President directly mentions); additionally, the “communications” that were to be sent out proved to be lacking, if they were sent out at all, as evident in the lack of meeting minutes around these initial gatherings; however, we are very confident that the Team reported often to President Anderson, even if they did not communicate with faculty, staff, or students in a “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable” manner. This is another example of an executive consolidation of governing power at the College–a repeat of the College’s response to student antiracist uprisings in 2017 that resulted in national headline news–that seems to perpetually result in failure, frustration, and demoralization across campus. This established and documented pattern of poor leadership and decision making by the President’s administration, and the Board of Regents that keeps extending his contract, is more than enough grounds for the immediate removal of both this administration and Board. To this end, we examine some of these failures below in light of the U.N.’s description of institutional resiliency.
Since the Response Team was the institutional body to address questions and concerns about the College’s pandemic planning, the lack of “transparent, accountable, responsive and equitable” communication eventually erupted in faculty, staff, and student frustrations by the end of the spring term, spilling into the abbreviated summer “break.” For example, student responses gathered through a publicly circulated Google form revealed that many were confused about what types of actions the College was considering and how decisions were being made. By summer, it became clearly apparent that the planning and decisions made by this small group of individuals—as well as other appointed task forces handpicked by administration, like the Fram Fram group—were impacting the entire College, with little to no transparency of decision making and no inclusion of elected faculty representatives in the planning process. The process thus completely bypassed any semblance of the College’s shared governance structures. Consequently, the end of the last school year was chaotic to the point of cruel absurdity in some cases. This proved to be yet another failure on the part of President Anderson to take center stage and actually lead the institution through this unprecedented challenge by collaborating with faculty leadership. Instead, he relied on his established protocol for such emergencies: choosing among the same individuals who are tasked with making important decisions, like planning the transition to an off-campus teaching model. The result was not only chaotic in its logistical implementation, but it also proved equally frustrating to faculty, staff, and students as the plan seemed to be focused more on maintaining some financial stability than addressing community concerns. It became obvious that the College was thinking of how to best “hoard cash” (President Anderson’s actual terminology) despite having raised $52 million more than the $200 million “All in for the Hill” campaign goal.
The result of prioritizing a financially feasible long-term model above the immediate needs of students, faculty, and staff resulted in a transition that was highly dysfunctional and confusing, unnecessarily stressful during an already crisis-ridden moment, and less than humane in its approach to students and their families. For example, even after the pandemic had been declared a national emergency by the federal government on March 13, 2020–a noteworthy date in that it further documents the administration’s failure leading up to this official declaration–St. Olaf did not immediately send students home. In fact, in an email sent by the Provost on March 15, faculty were encouraged to teach in-person through the end of the week. This shortsightedness, built on the unyielding commitment to the “residential/Ole culture” college model that St.Olaf has adopted as its educational brand, created rather than abated an institutional crisis: there was a sudden College issued request for students to leave campus in a hurried manner (allowing them minimum time to pack their belongings and for families to prepare accordingly), with the added caveat that those who did not leave by a specific date would not be able to leave at all; international students who were forced to stay on campus for various reasons felt abandoned by the College and concluded that they were a very low priority (i.e., being asked to move from different dorms at different times during the summer and having a limited cafeteria hour, which made them feel vulnerable in terms of health and safety protocols); finally, staff and faculty were sent home with little time to prepare for a transition to online teaching, especially during a time that had been slotted as a “break” throughout the entire semester, making the “let’s restart the term on the other side of spring break” logic completely useless in its effect. Moreover, as stated above, even after covid-19 was declared a national emergency, faculty were asked to continue teaching in-person, with the administrative reasoning that “students valued their liberal arts education,” a rhetoric that would be replicated in the College’s pandemic-response slogan, “Oles Care. Together.” Apparently, the scientific fact that we can all be infected together does not apply to Ole culture. Overall, the process that faculty, staff, and students were forced to adopt and abide by proved stressful and ineffectual in its intended result. And it is important to point out that these failures were not simply the result of the pandemic hitting Northfield, as Carleton College had already communicated with faculty and had made collective decisions on how to proceed, resulting in a smoother–and quicker, thus earlier and more effective–transition to online teaching. At St. Olaf, the planning process and the problems it created dragged on through the end of the term and into the summer months, eliminating any prospect of a “break” for faculty and staff—thus contributing to an already heightened sense of exhaustion and demoralization—especially since administration made an executive decision to start the 2020-2021 school year in mid-August, another decision that promises to intensify already existing problems and possibly create new ones.
The current plans to reopen in August are disconcerting in that they seem primarily motivated by the ideologically inflexible view of remaining faithful to a “residential” (i.e. profit based) model of learning, even during the resurgence of the coronavirus across the United States and after raising $52 million dollars more than expected. It goes without saying that this year is an exceptional one when it comes to crisis, and yet the College refuses to treat it as such. In fact, it is attached to a “normalizing” reopening model that is highly reflective of failed governmental policies. For example, the August 20th date moved the school calendar up in a manner that reduced the ability for faculty to rest and recover from a hectic year, with the scientifically unproven logic that this would help us avoid the high numbers associated with “cold months and flu season.” As this summer has proven, all assumptions about the coronavirus, including the idea that summer months would help curtail it, have proven incorrect. The idea that starting school early to “avoid flu season” is another example of speculative decision making that may prove disastrous, as the pandemic may surge by mid-August in a manner that would require the school to go fully online, leaving many faculty and students in yet another frustrating and labor-intensive situation of “fixing the problem” not of their making. Additionally, there is no scientific data that demonstrates that the coronavirus will spread more quickly in cold weather as opposed to warm weather. Current indications from southern hemisphere nations seem to show no radical change in the rates of contamination. Thus, there is no scientific data to support St. Olaf’s suggestion that this new fall calendar will minimize potential cases on campus. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Health’s 2020-2021 Planning Guide for Schools does not mention reopening early in any of its three scenarios involving school reopenings. In fact, it is not mentioned at all in the entire eighteen page document.
The early reopening plan also presents (and has presented) other problems for faculty, staff, and students. In addition to lacking any transparent, ongoing communications with staff and faculty regarding the reopening date, the decision to reopen early has placed many international and out-of-state students in precarious travel and visa situations. Such decision making not only risks having the College become a “hot spot,” but it also risks the entire Northfield community, which St. Olaf continually refuses to acknowledge as a potential casualty in its reopening, in-person school plan. It seems we are only part of the larger community when it is beneficial. Plenty of faculty members across campus have voiced this concern, as they and their families reside in Northfield and understand that virus travel–invisibly–regardless of the propertarian reasoning that the virus will somehow respect the borders presented by cultural fantasies, rivers, and fences.
And this speaks to perhaps the most demoralizing and exhausting of the consequences deriving from a lack of “resilient” leadership at St.Olaf. On July 31st, less than three weeks before the first day of classes is supposed to take place, and approximately two weeks before students and families begin arriving on campus, President Anderson sent out another email that basically served as a warning that, to paraphrase, “everything may change quickly in the next three weeks.” To those of us that have been monitoring the situation with only the health, safety, and pedagogical mission of teaching students as our primary focus (i.e., teachers), this is not a surprise, as it has been reported about pervasively in mainstream news outlets. In fact, the Trump administration is threatening financial retribution to school districts that do not open in person, even in states like Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana, where the pandemic is very much still surging. However, if the College made the executive decision to open early based on flimsy scientific reasoning regarding pandemic spread rates in cold versus warm weather, then we now have to face the potential reality that reopening schools in person during August may help fuel a second pandemic phase, if we haven’t entered one already. Reopening the College during this phase would mean that it could easily be compelled to go fully online within days or weeks of reopening. This will certainly frustrate and demoralize the 33% of faculty who have committed to teaching in-person to help the College fulfill its mission.
However, the President’s most recent email basically states that the plans announced months ago might have to change at the last minute, again, and for reasons that we find incomprehensible, especially coming from “leadership”:
“Throughout our planning during the pandemic we have prioritized the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. Our next priority has been to deliver on our mission as best we can under the circumstances imposed by the pandemic, so that our students receive the quality education they both want and deserve. Our third priority has been, since there are many aspects of our environment that we cannot control, to be flexible, nimble, and resourceful while reacting to changes in the behavior of the virus.”
The most frustrating aspect of this seemingly responsible and transparent listing of priorities is the obvious inability to understand the interconnectedness of these issues, which allows the College administration to continually compartmentalize problems as if they could be fixed individually without impacting other areas of reopening the campus to in-person instruction. Perhaps the most glaring example of this inability to see the “big picture” and simply focus on separate parts is the compartmental logic behind distinguishing the first priority from the third, which demonstrates a dire lack of “resilient” institutional planning. Any reasonable leader would immediately recognize that one cannot see to “the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty” without assuming that the separate third priority is an integral part of this first priority. In other words, remaining “flexible, nimble, and resourceful while reacting to changes in the behavior of the virus” is the best possible way to ensure “the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty.” Separating these two into different priorities offers a glimpse into the compartmentalizing logic guiding this administrative plan, which apparently lacks an understanding of how campuses constitute their own “biosystems” and why they have to be treated as such, which demands an understanding of the “bigger picture.” Thus, those faculty that have tried to accommodate the College’s commitment to the “mission” of in-person, residential learning will be left scrambling to transfer their courses onto an online platform with 2-3 weeks left in the summer and the chaos that will emerge with students and families scrambling to do the same–a repeat of how the spring term ended, again demonstrating a pattern of poor planning and no leadership vision or accountability.
Lastly, were it not for the work of the Faculty Life Committee, the College would never have polled faculty to ask what method of teaching they felt most comfortable with–a practice realized at institutions like Carleton College. The administration just recently was alerted to the fact that more than half the faculty (about 60%) would rather teach online, as older individuals have higher risks of developing complications if infected with the coronavirus. The College has not replied to this new and very important information simply because it never asked, thus they have no answer. The faculty had to force the issue through a survey conducted by faculty to assess faculty concerns, only so that those in administrative leadership positions can take our concerns into account when revisiting their “priorities” (like “the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty”).
The Failure of Antiracism at St. Olaf: Anatomy of a Symbolic Gesture
The reopening plans have also highlighted the ongoing failures of the College to engage in actual antiracist practices, as it continually demonstrates its utter misunderstanding of the required risks involved in taking an antiracist stance in a racist society. The College keeps relying on a defunct neoliberal model of symbolic inclusion and paltry financial investments that do little in terms of diversification. For example, following the racial protests around the police murder of George Floyd, St. Olaf responded by establishing a fellowship: “St. Olaf College has committed $100,000 to establish the George Floyd Fellowship for Social Change.” While symbolically generous, this $100,000 represents 0.0019 or 0.192% of the extra $52 million dollars raised beyond the “All in for the Hill” campaign goal of $200 million, thus representing 0.00039 or approximately 0.04% of the total $252,000,000 raised. When understood in these financial terms, the value of the gesture, as a priority, becomes fairly apparent. Antiracist emergency funding at the College, which already had its own racial scandal in 2017, merits less than 1% of the extra money raised in what is basically a charity campaign. These numbers, and their place in an overall budget, speak to the College’s antiracist resiliency, which is feeble at best. Nevertheless, the College considers such actions as documented commitments to its antiracist efforts. We, however, view it as another instance of applying cosmetics to an open, festering wound. Such silver lining pales in comparison to the hurricane it outlines, especially at a historically white college with a recently troubled past regarding these same issues.
The reason this criticism comes across as counterintuitive, perhaps even hurtful, to St. Olaf as an institution is because it continually fails (or is unwilling) to recognize that the College has established a highly influential yet invisible cultural model of assimilation, meaning that all diversification is essentially an “Ole-fied” version of diversity, one filtered through Ole culture that does little to challenge the status quo. The College’s inability or unwillingness to take an active antiracist stance again became apparent in the handling of Trump’s executive order targeting international students planning to study in the U.S. While the initial order was rescinded, we cannot help but notice the extremely subtle, unimpressive manner in which St. Olaf decided to challenge a racist policy that would negatively impact many of its students. As President Anderson noted, the College added its name to an amicus brief by the American Council on Education via the Minnesota Private Colleges Council, of which the College is a member. In other words, the College added its name to a Council that then added its name, as a Council, to another Council’s letter. The amount of “cover” the College receives in such instances needs not to be explained, as one would be hard pressed to find the name “St. Olaf College” easily among the plaintiffs. Moreover, presented with the possibility of offering a reassuring and strongly worded message against Trump’s executive order, as other university and college leaders have done, President Anderson chose to send a brief email announcing the news, without a critique or rationale. It was simply “good news” to be shared, but not an antiracist politics that required the risk of exposure as an institution standing against the documented racism of the current administration.
Instead, we later received a forwarded email from Dr. Hassel Morrison (Vice President for Student Life) that he sent to students, where he stated the following: “I denounce any attempt to restrict our international students.” While we applaud Dr. Morrison’s willingness to denounce racism, we are deeply disappointed that it is voiced as a personal position rather than an institutional one. This means that he, personally, does not agree with such a policy, but he is not doing so as the leader of the College. President Anderson could have demonstrated an act of good will toward making the College an antiracist campus by sending an email where he states clearly and openly that St. Olaf College “denounces” the racist politics behind such an executive order. But this College has proven to be especially hesitant in taking strong and public antiracist positions in the past, since such positions can alienate a certain demographic that it depends on for “hoarding cash.” These constituents are not interested in the diversification of Ole culture, either in terms of having an antiracist campus or more international students, but instead in maintaining a strong, Christian, conservative institutional identity at St. Olaf. Unfortunately, the College seems unable or unwilling to comprehend the deep incompatibilities between the systemic racism endemic to this white, Christian tradition and contemporary antiracist movements. To truly comprehend this, the College would have to accept the risks that come with embracing a politics of change, or what could be termed “institutional ethical resiliency,” which is what antiracism demands.
A Reply from MAD FACs to President Anderson’s “Commitment to Anti-Racism” Letter
(Issued on July 10, 2020)
The first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Proposing in 2020 the identical solutions to the failures of 2017 is farce.
President Anderson’s letter either feigns a concerned ignorance around the very meaning of Antiracism, or it displays a worrisome lack of knowledge. He insists that racism is a technical problem, a matter of innocence, ignorance, and decorum. To solve it, his letter suggests, “experts” need to be consulted, as if it were a problem for which one summons an IT technician. Outsourcing the “solution” to an ill-defined problem is an evasive tactic used to avoid the problem. The message from administration has a single purpose: to deny that racism at St. Olaf is historical, systematic, and institutional.
This letter is not a commitment to antiracism but belies the recipe used to both maintain racism and manage the College’s embarrassing pattern of neglect of this issue. This letter has one sole purpose: to protect the corporate nexus of money and the ethno-racial legacy that is peculiar to St. Olaf’s cultural identity. Surface descriptions suggest that St. Olaf is a pastoral idyll and racism an airborne alien virus against which our institution can be immunized, when in fact St. Olaf is the laboratory that incubates this deadly virus.
The College’s efforts to eradicate the sickness of racism on campus have failed. Rather than making a commitment to antiracism, St. Olaf has relied on corporate maneuvering, consistently employing a comparable series of acts as those mentioned in the letter, which simply preempt litigation and protect the College’s image and ethno-racial legacy. By proposing what amounts to the third or fourth “expert” speaker invited within the last 5 years to train faculty about racism, College leadership continues to recycle old outcomes, despite the glaring evidence that not one of these training sessions worked. None produced a single antiracist policy. In fact, after every public episode of racism on campus, the College seeks to douse the fire while using the same defunct hose. To perform the same act repeatedly and expect a different result is the very definition of absurdity.
The College shows contempt for BIPOC faculty each time leaders hire outside consultants. Because BIPOC Faculty live the College’s racism, they are fully capable of articulating their complaints. Even if one were to accept the College’s paradigm of racism as merely a deficit in decorum, the requirement of antiracism training further insults BIPOC faculty. It does so by forcing them to sit in the same, undifferentiated audience for a message pertinent only to their non-BIPOC peers. Such an approach is not only absurd but also symbolically violent, as it forces the complainants to pose as institutional spokespersons and thus tokens. This tactic is patronizing but also denies the legitimacy of BIPOC complaints. Worse, in training sessions, white faculty tend to feel victimized by us. It is not our duty to coddle white fragility.
Let us be clear: the central complaint of BIPOC faculty is the College’s investment in its racial legacy, which creates an unbearably hostile working environment. The President’s silence between 2017 and 2020 demonstrates a glaring denial that racism on campus is chronic and systemic. The events to which the President’s recent letter responds are a direct product of an uninterrupted cultivation of the College’s branding of an ethnic-racial merchandising model, one which assures that BIPOC faculty remain marginal, marginal to the ethnic-racial majority of faculty and marginal to the ethnic-racial majority of students. What distinguishes St. Olaf from other colleges is not that its BIPOC faculty are a numerical minority but that they are numerical and cultural minority as a result of St. Olaf’s peculiar investment in its ethnic-racial identity.
To summarize: the College’s commitment to a particular identity and cultural legacy is euphemistically dubbed “Ole Culture,” a term that disguises a malignant racial hierarchy felt by everyone who hears it. “Ole” is not an Arcadian ideal but a resounding term that evokes a specific racial-ethnic regime and imperialistic history. The word “Ole” thus means different things, depending on the audience: it is an undeniable whistle that either gathers or one that divides. Significantly, not all of us hear the same message, thus we do not share the same fate.
The cure for racism does not require special expertise; it is not a technical problem like the development of a vaccine. Fundamentally, racism is an intellectual and moral failure for which no specialized expertise is necessary. After all, it should be the raison d’être of a college to cultivate pluralism and a critical reasoning to which racism is anathema. No one who teaches or graduates with a degree in the liberal arts should find it the least bit difficult to identify, analyze, and denounce racism. The BIPOC faculty does not find this difficult. President Anderson ought not.
The pleas for patience, for time, for forbearance, or worse, for the outright denial of these central problems, are long past due. The only solution is to strip the administration of any power or responsibility for formulating an antiracist agenda. This matter must be delegated to a committee that retains absolute veto power to counter institutional agendas like the one presented in President Anderson’s letter.
Grievances and Antiracist Resistance: What MAD FACs Opposes
(Issued on July 6, 2020)
During this historical moment of racial reckoning that is testing the ethical and political will, values, and allegiances of individuals and institutions alike, it is important to engage in a revaluation of values. In the spirit of an antiracist revaluation, we call on the College to acknowledge its role in perpetuating systemic racism throughout its history and all the violence and inequity that follow from such institutionalized marginalization and disenfranchisement. We oppose empty statements of apologia, denial, and rationalizations from administrative leaders in regard to this already documented history, as they simply replicate clichéd messages of facile reconciliation and institutional change. We thus resist the allure of readymade ideological positions when they arise and oppose those practices we view as obstacles to the radical changes required for the College to become the space of social justice and ethical living it claims—and advertises—to be to the global community at large. In the spirit of fighting for antiracism at the College, we offer the following statement.
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We oppose the branding of “Ole” culture as a means of recruiting new students, staff, and faculty, and as a way of defining campus life and culture. Although the term “Ole” is strategically ambiguous and thus more widely marketable, it nevertheless speaks to a very specific history and identity that can be succinctly described as typically white American (of Norwegian and more broadly European settler-colonial heritage), Christian, middle-class, heteronormative, and ableist. In this regard, it is highly alienating for the College to foreground an identity that claims inclusivity and diversity while perpetuating a marginalizing and disenfranchising system of cultural hegemony and valuation. We resist such identity branding at the College as it marginalizes those who cannot or chose not to conform to the values and principles inherent to “Ole” culture.
We oppose the rhetoric of “tradition” and “legacy” as a means of defining the institutional identity of the College, as it too easily accommodates an ethno-nationalist narrative of “heritage.” Such narratives function to support a white supremacist history that whitewashes the blood of racialized peoples who refuse to be assimilated into a hegemonic system of administrated difference. This is most blatantly evident in the erased history of the Wahpekute Dakota Nation and first nations that inhabited these lands before their violent usurpation, and continues today with the tokenization of BIPOC faculty, staff, and students. We resist colonial narratives of tradition and the commodification of racialized or otherwise marginalized bodies, as these practices function to legitimize an understanding of “legacy” that cleanses itself of violence and erases the painful histories of oppressed peoples.
We oppose institutionalized reformist practices and marketing efforts that promote “diversification” while diluting and censoring antiracist praxis and discourse. A false sense of pluralism is facilitated at the College by entities such as the Institute for Freedom and Community, the President’s Leadership Team, the Council on Equity and Inclusion, and funding strategies such as the “To Include is to Excel” grant. These same entities are extremely effective marketing tools that promote the College as a diverse and welcoming institution that stands against racism. This is a deeply rooted problem at the College and indicative of a startling ignorance regarding the critical differences between reformist policies that “stand against racism” and the constant activism and vigilance required to be antiracist. Like other academic institutions undergoing scrutinization for their history of failed reform, we call on the College to reevaluate the microcosm of confederacy it has built using the founding rhetoric of “heritage” and “legacy” in order to uproot the deep seated origins of racism on campus. The College needs to be actively antiracist and not simply “stand against racism,” which is why we resist reformist platforms for change.
We oppose institutional policies that advocate for symbolic change while BIPOC faculty continue to endure the same material conditions of marginalization. We view such policies as simply assuaging white guilt and fragility by distorting what lack of accountability and complicity-through-silence do to BIPOC faculty on campus. Committed to the status quo that is “Ole” culture, the College has successfully erased various faculty and student documented studies that demonstrate the persistence of systemic racism. We are fatigued by policies that continually outsource “antiracist pedagogy” to experts that simply repackage established cliché seminars and required online “training” modules. This corporate model has proven a failure and is too often promoted as “antiracist” when in reality it is reformist at best. Misinterpreting and rebranding a scathing critique of institutionalized racism as a “gift” and “wake up call” to be pondered and discussed is simply the latest example of this reformist approach and explains why the disenfranchisement of historically marginalized communities continues to be a problem at the College, even after the events of 2017. We therefore reject any policies that do not account for a complete commitment to antiracism in all matters concerning the College.
We oppose the reprisal and policing of any critiques or efforts to speak out against the College’s ongoing failures in establishing an antiracist curriculum and work environment that reflects a more diverse faculty, staff, administration, and student body. Too often are critiques and calls for radical, antiracist change at the College received with an attitude of contempt, emotional harm, or outrage that then take the form of punishments ranging from verbal or documented warnings that are later used as obstacles to contract negotiations, including promotion and tenure, to threats of litigation or financial retribution. Such instances of institutional disenfranchisement result in BIPOC faculty feeling socially marginalized and existentially isolated in processing their cognitive dissonance in light of what is essentially a hegemonic culture of assimilable difference. MAD FACs exists, in part, to remind BIPOC faculty that isolationism is a tactic at the College and that you are not alone in your anger and frustration towards unjust systems that remain obstinately in opposition to necessary change and real equity. We thus resist punitive institutional practices meant to censor antiracist voices and will continue to promote solidarity among BIPOC faculty, staff, alumni, and students as a means of continuing our antiracist struggle.
We are BIPOC, we are unified, we are many, and we will persist in our antiracist effort to dismantle institutionalized oppression against traditionally disenfranchised peoples.
Who and What Is the Marginalized And Diverse Faculty of Color Anti-Racism Coalition (MAD FACs)?
(Issued on June 21, 2020)
MAD FACs is a coalition of St. Olaf faculty who identify with the experiences of faculty members who recently departed due to a hostile, racial work environment. Our purposes are to address complaints about white supremacy at St. Olaf College and dismantle the institutional culture and practices that produce them. If you take our departing colleagues at their word, then you agree with the fundamental position of MADFACs.
We are anonymous because we fear retaliation.
A Statement of Solidarity and Intent
(Issued on June 18, 2020)
We unreservedly declare our solidarity with our colleagues of color who recently left St. Olaf College. We do so because their experiences mirror ours. As educators, artists, and scholars from historically racialized communities, committed to justice and emancipation, we condemn the White liberal framing of their critiques as “a wakeup call” and “a gift.” This is tokenizing rhetoric that treats their racial trauma as singular instances for White edification further proving the damage that “Ole Culture” can inflict. The term “Ole” is meant to charm; to evoke quaintness, innocence. But we have never been duped by this even when we, from brute futility, declined to speak against it. Today we do speak against it. As Confederate and settler colonial monuments are being dismantled over the objections of those who speak of “heritage” rather than race, “Ole Culture” is a euphemism for a racial legacy of which St. Olaf is a dedicated monument. Standing against this legacy is the foundation of our solidarity. Claims of innocence can no longer save St. Olaf. This is an institution of scholarship, after all, answerable ultimately to disinterested reason, not a club of donors worried about the survivance of their legacy, of blood and soil.
Rather than treat our departing colleagues’ racial trauma as “gifts,” we grieve. We grieve their experiences of anti-blackness and overall racism at this institution. We grieve the loss of our colleagues’ brilliance as teachers and experts in their artistic and scholarly fields. We grieve the loss of the many St. Olaf students who would have been taught and mentored by them. We grieve the immeasurable ways that their creativity, intellectual labor, and pedagogies could have transformed the college into an institution where Black women professors and all Black and Brown faculty thrive. Moreover, we share in the racial fatigue of our departing colleagues, and thus have no confidence in the culture of Whiteness at St. Olaf to represent or discuss our grievances as BIPOC faculty. Due to the lack of accountability when White supremacy suppresses us, co-opts our contributions, silences our voices, or kills our careers, we stand with them and the truth they speak.
We will release a statement in the following days indicating our grievances regarding the systemic and epistemic racism that continues to exist at St. Olaf. In the meantime, we offer the following statements as indications of our intent:
We, in defense of our academic freedom, would dismantle notions of “Ole Culture” as a brand, discount claims of “shared community,” call out practices of White supremacy, and like others in the present global movement, expose the culture of protectionism and apologia around racist actions and the punitive targeting of Black and Brown students, staff, and faculty on campus. We insist on real systemic change and reject superficial actions (committees, task forces, councils) that seek to “include” racialized faculty, students, and staff, rather than re-examine and dismantle the violence of “Ole Culture” and “community.”
The Mad Faculty of Color Anti-Racism Coalition (Mad Facs)