Emails Indicate That Attitudes About Students At UND Haven't Changed Much

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it again and again: For the most part North Dakota’s universities have stopped prioritizing students in the way they go about their business.

At best, campus culture these days among administrators and even some faculty seems to see students as a nuisance. A necessary evil to justify their ever-expanding campuses and salaries/perks they’d never be able to earn outside of the higher education bubble.

As evidence, consider that massive increases in taxpayer appropriations and tuition fees over the last decade have resulted in little in the way of improved academic services for students but a great deal in the way of expanded administrative payrolls and playthings for the campus elite.

Also, as evidence, consider this behind-the-scenes glimpse of how UND President Robert Kelley and some faculty members really feel about the student government uprising over the last couple of weeks.

Publicly Kelley and his supporters have seemed contrite and apologetic over their treatment of students. Privately, one faculty member called the student government “children throwing a temper tantrum,” and Kelley himself saw in student criticism a political conspiracy against him.

This per emails obtained by Grand Forks Herald reporter Anna Burleson:

Curtis Stofferahn, a UND professor and member of the Greek Alumni Council, wrote an email to Reesor, stating he’s sorry the administration has to “put up with these children throwing a temper tantrum” and he thought last year’s Student Body President Nick Creamer, was “difficult but Franklin is much worse.”

He also asserted Franklin and his cabinet are being advised by lawmakers who don’t like Kelley for various reasons.

Kelley himself also asserted Franklin is politically motivated.

Nariaki Sugiura, assistant professor of piano, sent an email to Kelly expressing his support, to which Kelley responded saying “These things happen occasionally in university life. This one is politically driven and has little basis beyond the politics in the student body leadership.”

For what it’s worth, as a prominent critic of higher education and someone who knows more than a few lawmakers who would be more than happy to see Kelley deposed, I can say that it’s my sense these students were acting out of their own conviction. Members of the student government, including Franklin, contacted me shortly after the Grand Forks Herald broke news of impending tuition increases.

The students weren’t convinced that the Herald, traditionally defensive of Kelley and his administration, would give them a fair shake. So I wrote a post about their issues with the administrators, and published an op/ed from Senator John Mitzel.

The next I heard the students were planning a “no confidence” vote. When I communicated that to lawmakers I know who might be in a position to be advising these students, their response was surprise (not to mention enthusiasm).

Now, maybe I was just out of the loop. Or maybe these students actually had a real beef with Kelley and went about getting his attention, cutting through the usual miasma of public relations spin and double speak with action.

For their troubles, they are accused of being “children throwing a temper tantrum.”

That’s too bad. Most observers now agree that, while perhaps the students could have gone about airing their grievances in a different manner, they had legitimate gripes.

The students and Kelley’s administration are now going forward having signed onto a memorandum promising better communications and cooperation, but given these emails you have to wonder if Kelley and his cronies mean it or if it’s just a dodge to neutralize this issue as the students prepare to leave campus.

My guess is the latter. Pushing students back up the ranks of priorities for administrators like Kelley isn’t going to happen over night. For Kelley, after years of free rein from policy makers and sycophantic coverage from the local media, that change will likely never happen.

In related news, someone put together one of those Hitler “Downfall” videos about this whole affair. It’s hilarious.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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