Yesterday we got news that University of North Dakota professor Mark Trahant would be resigning at the end of his three year stint as the Charles R. Johnson endowed Professor of Journalism. In social media postings he expressed disappointment and “disgust” with the university over what he alleges was a refusal let him stage seminars discussing the #NoDAPL protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Trahant will be on my radio show with me today at 1pm.
Last night UND spokesman Peter Johnson responded to my inquiry about Trahant’s announcement. He says the university has no concerns about backlash from the Legislature or other state politicians, despite Trahant’s claims. He also says that while there were questions about using university dollars to pay for Trahant’s seminars, nothing prevented him from finding other revenue sources.
Here’s what Johnson emailed me in full:
Mark Trahant is a highly respected journalist and communication faculty member, as evidenced by the fact he has been made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been named an editor for an upcoming 2018 edition of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. We are sorry to learn that he has decided not to continue with the University of North Dakota.
The University of North Dakota senior administration has never, to my knowledge—and that includes conversations today, expressed any fear of retaliation by the North Dakota Legislature or by North Dakota legislators related to academic content. Nor has the North Dakota Legislature or any North Dakota legislators ever, in my experience, given the University of North Dakota any indication that there should be cause for any fear.
The University has engaged in all sorts of topics in ways that explore the full spectrum of positions related to those topics. In fact, President Mark Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy founded the Eye of the Hawk Lecture Series to explore all kinds of issues from all angles. The lecture series was developed with the notion that you have to be able to look at a topic from all angles to broaden your views, in the same way that a flying hawk sees landscapes without the artifice of political boundaries.
At the same time, the university has to make decisions about expenditures. Not every lecture topic is funded by the university, particularly in times of fiscal constraint. That doesn’t preclude individuals from seeking alternative funding sources. In this instance, there was concern expressed at the college level about using university funding at this time for the activities proposed by Mark Trahant. The topic wasn’t new to the North Dakota University System. There had been a session on DAPL during the NDUS Fine Arts and Humanities Summit in September 2016.
President Kennedy had not been aware of the conversations and regrets any perception that the university would have prevented a faculty-led activity from taking place based on perceived fears of legislative response.
In summary, Trahant is alleging the suppression of academic endeavor over fears of political backlash against unpopular topics.
The university, meanwhile, is saying Trahant wasn’t suppressed. Rather that there wasn’t support for using university dollars at a time when higher education budgets have been cut to pay for what some apparently saw as duplicative events.