Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Forget it, Jake. It's Dinkytown.

Here's the thing that struck me about South Africa, back when I lived in Durban. Unlike many dictatorships or totalitarian regimes, the South African apartheid state appeared to have all the surface trappings of democratic society: a judiciary, laws, elections, a functioning press. Of course, it was just an elaborate stage set.  Africans, Indians and the rest of the non-white majority in the country didn't stand a chance, because the entire pseudo-democratic system was designed to keep the boot on their necks. Somehow, though, it seemed important to the apartheid government to pretend that it was a functioning democracy. The costumes and the props had to look convincing.

That's what the University of Minnesota feels like today. On the surface, it looks like a functioning university. We appear to have an Institutional Review Board, a Research Integrity Office, an Institutional Compliance Office, a Records Officer, and so on. Yet these offices operate only at the service of the functionaries at the top -- namely, the university's President and General Counsel.  As in apartheid South Africa, our university offices will make small, occasional concessions in order to maintain the pretense of shared governance and proper procedures for dealing with misconduct. But when it counts, they come down hard with the boot.

When change in South Africa finally came, it was not because of what happened in the courts, or the boardrooms, or the government office buildings. It came because of what happened in the streets. And when change finally comes at the University of Minnesota, it will not come in a committee meeting or a university conference room.  Those proceedings are rigged to make sure of that.  Change will come only when a sufficient number of people step forward and say they refuse to be exploited and abused anymore.

Please join us at the McNamara Center this Friday at noon.

1 comment:

  1. I have known many bankers. I have worked in many banks, protecting the tellers. I have observed the careful analysis they use to conduct the business of money transactions. The one thing a banker fears the most, is the stick-up man, who has a gun, and a mask. The bank robber is offset by the uniformed police officer. When these two individuals collide, midway into a bank robbery, there can be serious consequences.

    The employees are instructed to remain calm, and non-confrontational. Nobody expects the banker, or the loan officer, to tackle the robber as he runs away with the loot.

    If the police officer ran into the closet and hid, during the tense moments during the robbery, he may suffer by being called a coward, or derelict. He made the decision to wear the badge, and when harms way appears, he is expected to enter the fray.

    The board of regent member is like a police officer, without the exigency part. The regent must expel the wrong doers, to protect the system. If you are a regent who is aware of misconduct, as you sit complacently doing nothing, then you have no business expecting the police to jump in as the robber takes you down.

    The public has great expectations from it's university leaders, don't let them down, lest you be let down in your time of need. Be a good partner.