Alumni | Freedom of Expression

Denied a Discussion at a Reunion, a Macalester College Alumni Group Plans a Sit-In

CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION   |  June 2, 2009 by Robin Wilson

A group of Macalester College alumni that has accused the institution, in St. Paul, of failing to expose students to a broad range of political views says it will hold an “old-fashioned” 1960s-style sit-in on the campus on Saturday because the college has refused to allow the group to hold a panel discussion during alumni reunion festivities this weekend.

The group calls itself Macalester Alumni of Moderation, or Mac Mods, and was founded in 2005 by Roger S. Peterson, a 1967 graduate of the college who is a freelance business writer in California.

Mr. Peterson says articles in the college’s alumni magazine prompted his concern that the campus was full of “leftist” professors and speakers. The resulting uniformity of views, says Mr. Peterson, stands in stark contrast to the climate at Macalester when he was a student in the 1960s. “You were required to defend your positions and know both sides of an argument,” he says. “But what we see coming out of the school now is a bunch of one-sidedness.”

Mr. Peterson says the college needs to hire more politically conservative professors. In a news release about the sit-in, he quotes leaders of two national groups that accuse American higher education of lacking intellectual and political diversity—the National Association of Scholars and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni—as supporting his group.

Macalester allowed the Mac Mods to hold a panel discussion during alumni-reunion activities in 2006 and 2007. But Mr. Peterson received a letter this spring from Gabrielle Lawrence, director of alumni relations, saying the group would not be allowed to hold a discussion on the campus this year. In her letter, Ms. Lawrence did not say precisely why, but she noted that Mr. Peterson had not been involved in the planning process for the alumni-reunion weekend and also was not planning to personally attend the festivities or the panel discussion he proposed.

Mr. Peterson says it shouldn’t matter whether he was planning to attend. Two other members of his group, which has a blog and which he says numbers about 35, are planning to be there, he says. Instead of the panel discussion, the group will hold a protest at a landmark in the center of the campus, a large boulder known as the Rock.

“Macalester Alumni of Moderation believe a liberal-arts education is enhanced by differing points of view shared freely on campus,” says a flier that the two alumni plan to hand out during their sit-in. “That includes moderate and conservative political views.”

Amy Phenix, a spokeswoman for Macalester, says only a handful of alumni attended the group’s previous panel discussions. She says that the college “is absolutely committed to promoting diversity of thought” but adds that it “doesn’t believe Mr. Peterson is interested in a constructive dialogue with the college.”


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