An open letter to Macalester students

By Director Helen Warren

I am writing this letter in response to the Open Letter that appeared in the November 17th Mac Weekly and to the edited “World Class” document I picked up in the Campus Center. Although neither document was directed to me, I respond out of anger and dismay at what each implies about me and the work I do at Macalester.I reject absolutely the implication that Macalester is a monarchy and President Rosenberg is its tyrant. I reject this premise because it renders me, and my colleagues who raise funds for Macalester, as toadies of the powerful, with no genuine commitment to the college’s mission and the values it represents. Do Macalester students imagine they are alone in their convictions about access and affordability and opportunity? Do you really believe that professional staff at the college eagerly go to work everyday to foster elitism and serve privilege? Or worse yet, that we are swindled by our own rhetoric and don’t even perceive the hypocrisy we commit when we advocate for scholarships, undergraduate research stipends and academic program support?

You may insist there is “nothing personal” in your objections to “World Class” or in demanding President Rosenberg’s resignation if alterations in admissions policy are not undone. You may deny that your attacks or objections are aimed at people like me, who help turn the wheels at Macalester, but don’t set the college’s course.

But when you cruelly characterize President Rosenberg as a self-centered tyrant, you impugn me by association.
Either I am complicit in his machinations, or too dim to detect them. After laboring over grant proposals to make them compelling, after collaborating with students on grant proposals they initiate, after hosting visitors to campus to see for themselves what sort of a place Mac is, do you think I go home, put up my feet, and raise a toast to advancing elitism and corporate agendas? Do you really think I would work for a president who only has these goals in mind?

Since I direct the college’s Corporate and Foundation Relations, let me allay fears that Macalester is “going corporate.” While we attract grant support from corporate foundations like Medtronic, such support is very modest. To be frank, Macalester is a poor candidate for corporate “takeover” because we don’t have the degree programs corporations prize and because our alumni are not well situated to direct corporate dollars our way.

As a student of rhetoric, I know that absolutist stands can advance the conversation. They do so by contrasting with more reasonable positions, making the latter more attractive. In this way, Malcolm X helped to advance Martin Luther King’s doctrine of non-violence and creative confrontation. People who wouldn’t otherwise embrace non-violence are drawn to it more readily when the prospect of real violence appears on the horizon. On this basis, perhaps I can stomach the invective against President Rosenberg because it creates an appetite for more thoughtful perspectives. But that comes only after this wave of anger subsides.

When people ask me about my work at Macalester, I say that I really work for the students, helping to raise their sights, reinforce their ambitions, and limit their indebtedness. I see my work as helping to remove some of the hurdles that stand between them and the destinations they set for themselves. I still think this is true. Except, right now, I am mad at some of my bosses.

Helen Warren
Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations