The opinion piece published by Daniel Bomberg, Rachel Rauvola, and, James Meyerson in last week’s edition of The Mac Weekly reveals its naive idealism within the first two paragraphs when it attempts to shame Macalester for lauding the life of Joan Mondale ‘52, but not Jane Hough ‘52. It would have been foolish of Macalester to not mark the death of a prominent member of the Macalester and Twin Cities community who went on to be the Second Lady of the United States. In addition to her role as Second Lady, Mondale served on the boards of the Minnesota Orchestra, Walker Art Center, the National Portrait Gallery, and Macalester College, making significant contributions in her many roles.
That is not to say Mrs. Hough’s contributions as an elementary school and piano teacher were not significant in their own right, but to conflate them to the level of Mondale’s is not only disingenuous but is detrimental to both parties.
Every college from Louisiana to New Jersey spawns elementary school teachers. Only a few colleges spawn alumnus who go one to spend time in the White House. Additionally, Mrs. Mondale gave back to Macalester and the community through publicity and donations in a way Hough wasn’t able to. Flying the flag at half-mast and mourning wasn’t “clinging” to her death- it was honoring her.
So, to answer your question, Bomberg, Meyerson, and Rauvola, when a college “clings” to the death of a celebrity alumna, it means it is paying its regards. In this case, honoring the legacy of a well-loved and respected member of the college and the greater Twin Cities community. Macalester’s “manipulation” (as you so claim) of Annan’s or Mondale’s or the Dalai Lama’s images pay for your (our) excellent professors, on-campus speakers, academic resources, and tuition of the many students who receive financial aid. These images highlight the international focus of the school and, in turn, bring us international respect and attention.
Yes, this is how Macalester does business. This is also how every institution of higher education does business. This is how every business does business. It’s called marketing. The cosmopolitan and social capital you speak of grants Macalester real capital. Highlight people who went on to do really average things and see how that attracts new students and the contributions that keep Macalester running. For the school to do anything less that highlight these high-profile international connections would be to do a disservice to both the school and its guests.
Macalester does indeed “go gaga” over these visits and very well should- not many international public figures venture to the midwest to speak to a small college, especially based on a personal interest in neuroscience.
Events like Annan’s or the Dalai Lama’s visits are certainly not definitive of Macalester’s still-developing (and sometimes underdeveloped) internationalism and diversity, but they are contributing to its formation.
Let’s shelve pseudo-intellectual criticism and cries for attention and instead recognize the realities that make Macalester’s institutional weight so possible.