Connecting the dots

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Being December and all, and my last column of the year, I thought that it would be nice to finish the semester with some interesting anecdotes to give us something to think about over J-term. Enjoy. Anecdote 1: Last year the Multicultural Advisory Board (MAP) wrote a 55-page report that included over 60 pages of appendices detailing the state of faculty of color retention at Macalester. As of today, nearly 8 months after the report was completed, President Rosenberg has not given the Board “permission” to release the report. The numbers detailed in the not-yet-public report are pretty dismal. Over the period of 1981-2002, the male faculty of color at Macalester retention rate was only 33 percent. White male faculty, over the same period of time, had an 80 percent retention rate.

Anecdote 2: Two weeks ago, the draft of Macalester’s self-study for accreditation was released. With a sharp eye (looking between pp. 23 and 25 to be exact), one can find data for faculty of color retention. Unfortunately, the numbers it reports are different from the data in the Multicultural Advisory Board report. Unlike the more comprehensive (and not-permitted) MAB report, the data in the self-study only cover the years 1991-2000. This means that it only looks at Macalester’s Reader’s Digest glory years when the school was rolling in dough and hiring faculty of color only to see them leave in large numbers very soon afterward. This short-sightedness (planned or unplanned) combined with the fact that the self-study includes international and American-born faculty of color in the same statistic results in a retention rate of 47 percent. While this number is still a far cry from the white male faulty retention rate, it does shift the data in a way favorable to those concerned with the image (perhaps not the substance) of “multiculturalism” at Macalester.

Anecdote 3: At the faculty meeting where the new Educational Policy and Governance (EPAG) curriculum requirements were voted on and approved (as reported in the Nov. 25 edition of The Mac Weekly), the only requirement that was debated in any substantive way (i.e. attacks on its substance and not its feasibility) was the new multiculturalism requirement. Not only that, the multiculturalism requirement was the only one that did not receive a unanimous vote from the members of the EPAG committee (the very people who worked all summer to create the proposal). Why is there such a problem to get a requirement that includes “questioning power structures”? Professor Paul Solon, as quoted by The Mac Weekly, offered us some insight when he declared that students and faculty might be “resentful” of the “politically correct” nature of the requirement. Hmm.

Anecdote 4: The current yearly budget of the Department of Multicultural Life is approximately $21,000. The cost for the Inaugural Gala for our 16th President, Brian Rosenberg, on March 5, 2004 (a three-and-a-half hour event) was at least $10,000. And the cost for the Inaugural Gala in the Spring of 2006 for the proposed Institute for Global Citizenship and Leadership is about $30,000 (at the most a three-day event). The cost of the Inaugural Gala for Jane Rhodes, our first Dean of the Study of Race and Ethnicity is, in contrast, $0. That’s because there hasn’t been a Gala–let alone a potluck supper–sponsored by our school to welcome Jane Rhodes to her new position.

Thoughts: The problem with racism these days is that it is subtle, tricky, hidden in plain sight. Given any one of the previous situations, it is possible that an explanation describing the situation as an oversight, an isolated event, or “just the way things happened to turn out”, could be satisfactorily explained and accepted. But when the situations accumulate and accumulate and accumulate, to deny their connections is to deny the reality of what we face. Learning to question power structures is far from a “politically correct” imposition to learning. It is rather one of the most important things we learn here at Macalester. Inequality exists here at Mac just as it exists in St. Paul, in the United States, and around the world. For instance: why are all the department coordinators at Mac women? Why are nearly all the custodial positions filled by people of color? Why are there only three African-American male students in the sophomore class? And why, oh, why, at an enlightened institution such as ours, have we never had a President who wasn’t a white guy? As much as we want to see ourselves as the unproblematic incubator of genius, all is not well in Multiculturalism-land at Macalester, and to deny this fact is to preempt any ability to remedy these problems. We must call out the disparities and reveal the connections at this campus not because we feel cantankerous (although such an attitude is pretty darn justified), but because we need to change the situation. Take care of yourselves over break, and get ready for some fun next semester. Peace.

Seth Schlotterbeck is a columnist for the Mac Weekly. Contact him at [email protected]