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U of M Regent Steve Sviggum questions if Morris campus is "too diverse" during enrollment discussion

MINNEAPOLIS – University of Minnesota Board of Regents Vice Chair Steve Sviggum is facing backlash after comments he made during a Board of Regents meeting on Oct. 13 about enrollment.

Sviggum, a former Republican speaker of the Minnesota House, asked Morris campus Acting Chancellor Janet Schrunk Eriksen this question: “Is it possible that at Morris we’ve become too diverse? Is that possible, all from a marketing standpoint?”

He pointed to declining enrollment and increased diversity.

“I have received a couple letters, two actually, from friends whose children are not going to go to Morris because it is too diverse, let’s say, of a campus. They just didn’t feel comfortable there,” said Sviggum.

Schrunk Eriksen responded to his question saying she had recently met with BIPOC students who would “be shocked that anyone would think our campus was too diverse.”

According to enrollment data collected by the university, 1,068 students are enrolled this fall, down from 1,946 in 2013. The majority of students are White at 54%, followed by American Indian (31.6%.) Qualified Native students attend campus tuition free.

Some of the campus buildings were once an American Indian Boarding School.

Steve Sviggum

University of Minnesota

Board of Regents Chair Ken Powell released this statement on the matter:

I am aware of the comments made by Regent Steve Sviggum since last week’s presentation by Interim Chancellor Janet Schrunk Ericksen of the University of Minnesota Morris. Interim Chancellor Ericksen’s comments during the Board’s meeting strongly resonate with me. Our diversity is a strength, it creates opportunity, and it opens the door for many more who have been historically excluded from the economic and other benefits of higher education. This Board has been a strong supporter of the diversity efforts of this administration, whether in employment or student enrollment. We have voiced our support and our pride in the results, knowing that across the broad spectrum of diversity, the University is a leader -regionally and nationally – in ensuring that all Minnesotans have access to the strength of the University of Minnesota.

Sviggum doubled down on his comments as a guest Monday on “The Morning News with Vineeta Sawkar” on WCCO Radio.

“It’s fair to at least ask the question. I don’t see asking a question as being offensive or wrong, and certainly, certainly not racist, Vineeta,” Sviggum said.

Morris Campus Student Association President Dylan Young sent a letter to Sviggum opening up about his experience as a BIPOC student on campus.

“‘Uncomfortable’ is the same word I would use to describe some of my experiences as a Native American college student,” Young said.

The letter was signed by more than 200 students. Young said they invited him to campus and heard back from Sviggum Monday, who agreed to come visit.

“It is unbelievable that someone would think diversity is part of that problem,” Young said. “I think it’s part of the solution.”

In a statement, Acting Chancellor Schrunk Ericksen said in part, “I am proud of the Morris campus community and its inclusive voices, and I will continue to support our efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion as integral parts of our liberal arts mission.”

Source: CBS Minnesota

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