Fall 2009: How Mac survived while you were abroad or asleep

By Matt Day

Study abroad balancingCollege officials outlined plans to consolidate the two study abroad application deadlines (fall and spring) into one, giving the college flexibility in balancing the number of students who are off-campus each semester.

Students have traditionally preferred studying abroad in the spring, often by a 2-1 margin. Administrators say this causes budget gaps and irregularities.

Winter Ball too popular

Winter Ball, the first attempt at a fall formal dance to accompany spring’s Founder’s Day in more than a decade, was well attended-maybe too well.

The 650 tickets to the event at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis sold out, surprising Program Board organizers, who had not publicized that a limited number were available. A virtual shouting match ensued on the ball’s Facebook page. The occasional actual shouting match ensued at the Info Desk in the Campus Center.

Another iteration of the dance is likely in 2010.

Hate speech

Examples of homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic hate speech appeared on white boards and walls across residence halls during the first week of classes and thereafter, raising questions about the student body’s commitment to fighting racism and sexism.

The campus community was informed of what became repeated, and perhaps copycat incidents in e-mails from Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, who stressed the college’s no tolerance policy for harassment of any kind.

More than 150 students, faculty and staff attended an open forum on the issue at the chapel Nov. 2. President Brian Rosenberg, Dean of Multicultural Life Tommy Woon, Hoppe and more than 30 students stepped to the microphone to condemn the authors of the hate speech, who were never identified.

Institute for Global Citizenship finds a home

Markim Hall, home to the college’s much-promoted Institute for Global Citizenship and other administrative offices, opened for business. As expected, the building received the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest certification for energy efficiency.

NAACP chairman and civil rights legend Julian Bond gave an address at Markim’s dedication ceremony Oct. 1, speaking to the Macalester community about civil rights successes and failures in the years since his grandfather was emancipated by the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865.

Administrators touted Markim before and after its completion as a gathering space for students, but temporary limited hours and other considerations kept that from becoming a reality in the fall.

As associate IGC dean Karin Trail-Johnson noted, “There’s lots of places on campus for student groups to meet weekly. We don’t want these rooms tied up as much.”

Baby steps out of the financial crisis helped by a colossal class of 2013

The college entered the 2009-10 academic year with a tightened collective belt, having implemented 5 – 7 percent budget cuts across all departments. Staff and faculty salaries of more than $70,000 were frozen. Expenses like travel and printing were cut most severely, and administrators said services that directly affected students were shielded for the most part.

Macalester entered the school year with an approximate endowment value of $550 million, down from $700 million in October 2007.

An unexpectedly large freshman class filled Macalester’s dorms and dining facility and strained student services, but it may help to fill the college pocketbook. 566 freshmen arrived on campus in August, the largest class since 1970. Study lounges and the common room on the second floor of Turck Hall were converted into living spaces and Café Mac is a zoo at peak hours, but the extra enrollment will mean millions in tuition dollars.

Lawsuits and legal matters

Macalester was on the receiving end of one lawsuit and a harassment investigation, both beginning in the summer.

Jacob Bond ’09 filed suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis in July claiming the college violated his right to free speech and failed to accommodate his Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism. Bond was dismissed from the football team in 2006 for what he said was his choice to leave his helmet on during the national anthem in protest of the Iraq War.

An internal investigation by the college and a subsequent review by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights had found no wrongdoing on the part of the college, and the case was settled out of court in the fall. Macalester was widely criticized for its handling of the situation by online news sources, among them renowned sportswriter Dave Zirin ’96.

Macalester was also the subject of an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights after former international studies professor Smadar Lavie accused the college of harassment in May.

College officials said an internal investigation found no evidence of harassment, but offered no further details. Lavie, currently at the University of Virginia – Charlottesville, after a two-year stay at Macalester, would not comment.

When reached by phone in early December, a Minnesota Department of Human Rights public relations officer could not confirm the existence of the investigation, indicating that it was ongoing. (MDHR rules prohibit disclosure of information relating to open cases).