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.