Hamline students, faculty protest Marriage Amd. Neutrality

By Kyle Coombs

While Macalester’s Board of Trustees is considering a vote on the school’s stance on the Marriage Amendment this weekend, Trustees at Hamline University stated last week that the institution will remain neutral on the issue. The Hamline community is still rife with protests and controversy after President Linda Hanson’s announcement last Monday that the institution will maintain a neutral stance. Philosophy professor Stephen Kellert, one of the first to contact the president, sent Hanson a letter on September 9 requesting that the administration take an official stance in opposition to the Marriage Amendment. Sociology professor Melissa Embser-Herbert started a Facebook group called “Hamline Supports The Freedom to Marry” at the beginning of September, which grew to more than 2,500 members. After receiving these and other requests from faculty and students that Hamline officially oppose the amendment, Hanson met with the board on Monday to vote on whether the school would be willing to take a stand. She then emailed the entire student body, faculty, administration and staff with an official statement that Hamline would remain neutral in order to promote fair and equal discussion on the issue. “As a diverse university made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, the Methodist church and our neighbors, each individual and group should have the freedom to express their approval of or opposition to the amendment,” Hanson wrote. This directly contradicted a statement from Kellert’s letter. “It is simply false that Hamline’s official stance on certain controversial political issues has silenced discussion,” he said. “Exaggerated politeness stifles discussion.” The president was unavailable for comment, but her announcement has been made available to the public. Protests the next day showed that many students and faculty do not agree with this decision. Hamline student Taelor Hill ’15 said the protesters started gathering around and circling Old Main, the building that houses the president’s office, at 11 a.m. when classes are not scheduled. They held signs and chanted statements of protest against neutrality. The protests continued during class hours and Hill heard that yelling from the protests disrupted some classes, though she did not experience such disturbances. Sociology professor Melissa Embser-Herbert, who opposes the school’s neutral stance, also attended the protests. She said that a recent faculty vote had approved a resolution to oppose the amendment and request that President Hanson publicly make the same statement. Embser-Herbert, who drafted the faculty resolution, said 68 percent (142 members) of the faculty participated in the vote, which was open from 2 p.m. Sept. 21 to midnight Sept. 24. Of those participating, 85 percent (127) voted to approve the resolution. However, the president made her announcement prior to the closing of the polls on Monday, meaning their final vote was not taken into consideration. “I got the pleasure of announcing to students what the faculty vote was,” Embser-Herbert said. Later that day some protesters covered their mouths with duct tape and sat in the hallway outside Hanson’s office, Hill said. A member of MPIRG at Hamline, Hill said that she was disappointed to see the divisiveness of these protests. “It is frustrating to see this shift happening,” she said. “If you don’t think your school is taking a good stance, take a stance and do something.” A few students went to Hanson’s office and asked to have a meeting with her. That same afternoon the president obliged and held a meeting with all concerned members of the community. “Personally, I knew they weren’t going to change it,” Hill said. “The meeting was to appease [protesters], not change their minds.” Students, faculty and staff on all sides of the issue attended the meeting, which was posted on the OccupyHamline YouTube channel. At the meeting the president explained that the Board of Trustees took the issue very seriously in their deliberations. She also aimed to debunk several rumors that money motivated the decision. “One of the questions that might run through somebody’s mind is, ‘Oh we don’t want to offend anybody because they might take all their money away and their donations away.’ It’s not about money,” she said at the meeting. “Those donors are not going to be swayed by the consideration on Monday.” Hanson encouraged faculty and students to take a stand on the issue, as they have done at other institutions including Macalester, Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota. However, she reaffirmed her announcement that Hamline will remain neutral on the issue. “We are about learning from one another and the moment any university takes a stand and says we only want to line up with [one side’s] opinions, what does it say to the others who may be just as many or not?” she asked. “We have no way of really knowing. But we disenfranchise those people who are also part of the community.” Although Hanson encouraged debate and discussion, Hanson said the neutrality decision was final. “The decision has been made,” she said. “I think the question is, what are we going to do with it?” After her remarks Hanson opened the meeting up for questions and comments from the floor. Several students and faculty criticized the president both for her premature announcement of the statement and her logic that taking a stance would discourage fair discourse. A few spoke in favor of neutrality. Embser-Herbert spoke first in reference to the president’s opening remarks at the unveiling of the University’s Strategic Plan in May that Hamline maintain a “commitment to equity, access and social justice.” “I want to reframe the question from one that asks Hamline to take a stance on the Marriage Amendment to one that asks Hamline to take a stance against discrimination,” Embser-Herbert said. “I’m really puzzled why Hamline University cannot stand by its mission, its vision, its values and its brand new Strategic Plan against something that seeks to enshrine in our constitution my status as second-class citizen.” President Hanson said in response that alienating some members of the community would be worse discrimination. “I understand that there are some who think that not taking a stand is discrimination,” she said. “But again, there are many others who think differently. So I have no intention of leading this University down a path where we would abandon our strategic goals, our vision or our values.” Provost Eric Jensen spoke in support of President Hanson’s decision and gave his interpretation of the faculty vote results, specifically citing those who did not support the amendment. “There was 15 percent who voted against the resolution or abstained,” Jensen said. “That says to me that there is a minority at Hamline that has effectively no voice if Hamline as an institution speaks on their behalf. And that’s an awkward position to be in.” Trustee Bob Klas Jr added that the Board decided that a stance should not be decided democratically. “What the Board of Trustees tried not to do is create both winners and losers,” Klas said. Student Taylor Williams, who opposes the amendment, said neutrality protected the diversity of Hamline’s community. However, he encouraged students to act on their opinions. “[Going neutral] still allows every student and faculty member here to keep their voice,” Williams said. “That being said, I turn to all of you. Don’t give up your voice. Go into the community, tell them about this amendment.” Lucas Dolen ’15, a member of the Hamline Student Congress, was inspired by Williams’ comments. On Tuesday the Hamline Student Congress will vote on a motion to oppose the Marriage Amendment. Dolen said he would like to speak with students about their opinions on neutrality, specifically those who support it but oppose the Marriage Amendment. “[The] main voices heard were the protesters,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t [agree with
them], but they weren’t heard.” Dolen said he supports neutrality, though that has become a “loaded” word at Hamline. “Right now being neutral is thought of as indifference,” he said. Dolen echoed Williams’ statement that the protesters’ time would be better spent gathering support for the amendment in the surrounding communities. “I would think [the protesters] would be most productive going after voters rather than going after the institution, which isn’t going to changes its mind.” Minor protest activities continued after Thursday, Hill said. She described many of them as “passive aggressive” and “creepy.” Protesters started writing statements against neutrality in chalk and placed a T-shirt that read “We will be heard,” as well as a “Vote No” sticker on The Bishop, a statue of the school’s founder Bishop Leonidas Lent Hamline. Hill said she was uncomfortable with one chalk message that listed President Hanson’s private phone number and claimed that she would face the consequences of her actions. Activity also grew on the “Hamline Supports the Freedom to Marry” page. Protesters used the site to gather support for the Rally Against Neutrality on Thursday, after The Mac Weekly’s press time. A group of students gathered at Old Main and marched toward the Anderson Center where the President, Board of Trustees and students were having dinner. Many alumni have also posted on the Facebook page in opposition to neutrality. Several have posted letters they wrote to Hanson regarding the announcement and several of her statements at the meeting. Others said they will stop financially supporting Hamline until the institution takes another stance. Alumni Stances
Professor Emsber-Herbert described the amount of alumni involvement on the Hamline Supports the Marriage Amendment Facebook page as a “residual positive.” Erin Parrish ’05 and Colin Schumacher ’05 both posted letters to President Hanson on the group page. Parrish, the Executive Director of Minnesota Women’s Consortium, made clear that she opposed the neutrality stance. However, the bulk of her letter addressed a comment President Hanson made during the Tuesday meeting that issues of racism, sexism and classism are “settled.” President Hanson made the statement in response to a student who said that gay marriage is a civil rights issue similar to sexism, racism and classism. “You mentioned some of the earlier things that have long been settled with regard to racism, with regard to sexism and so forth,” she said. The crowd responded with laughter and audible disagreement with the nature of these issues as “settled.” Embser-Herbert said in her defense, the President’s statement could be interpreted to mean that these issues are clearly defined as civil rights issues. However, Parrish took it upon herself to clarify the relevance of these issues to President Hanson. “Since it appears that you are unclear as to what constitutes racism and sexism,” Parrish wrote. “I would like to take the opportunity to share a few facts from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota’s 2012 ‘Status of Women & Girls in Minnesota’ report in order to highlight the current reality for women and people of color in the United States.” Parrish’s letter goes on to cite several facts identified as examples of sexism and racism in society. These include wage gap statistics for women and people of color, sexual assault statistics, and several other statistics. She concluded with an invitation for President Hanson to join the Minnesota Women’s Consortium in working against sexism and racism. In an email she explained that as long as Hamline remained neutral she would donate to Augsburg College, where she received her Master’s Degree. “Augsburg has taken a stand in opposition to the marriage amendment,” she wrote in the email. “Until I see a change in President Hanson’s leadership, I will contribute to Augsburg.” Schumacher stated that the neutrality stance is not in line with the John Wesley Leadership and Service Award, which he received in 2003. The award allows “the Board of Trustees to reward those students who best demonstrate a commitment to leadership and service that lies at the heart of Hamline University.” Schumacher requested that his name be taken off the record of award recipients. “I…formally request that my name be removed from all public records of the award,” he wrote in his letter. “Accordingly, I request that my name be removed from all public records of the award. Alternatively, my name may be affixed with an asterisk and footnote reading, ‘No longer recognizes the integrity of the governing body conferring this award.’” He added that he planned to advise other Wesley Award Recipients to send similar letters and take similar stances against neutrality. However, he said he would wait a few days for a response before he took further action. As of Wednesday, neither Parrish nor Schumacher had received a response from President Hanson. refresh –>