On Aug. 30, days before the student body reconvened for the fall semester, the St. Olaf faculty voted overwhelmingly to oppose the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. The St. Olaf faculty vote will undoubtedly carry large ramifications for the image of the school. It will convey that St. Olaf is teaching its students what decisions to make, not how they should make them.
The faculty, like the students, are ambassadors of St. Olaf College and have the ability to convey ideas and impressions regardless of the official stance of the school. Their influence is unparalleled and well-respected. However, students should be left to craft their own social agendas founded upon tools taught to them by their professors.
The faculty vote followed the creation of a petition opposing the amendment by the group St. Olaf Votes No. According to Northfield Patch, when asked about the faculty vote, St. Olaf Media Relations Representative David Gonnerman stated:
“The appropriate role for a college is to encourage and prepare its students to take informed positions on public policy issues, to participate in discussion of them and to exercise their right to vote. St. Olaf’s mission states that we ‘challenge our students to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world,’ and we encourage all Minnesotans to do the same. This is the role St. Olaf embraces. But St. Olaf doesn’t take official positions on the many issues that are now and will be under public debate.”
Gonnerman is correct in saying that it is the role of the school to enable students to make public policy decisions, but the school itself shouldn’t take official positions on social issues, which could undermine students’ abilities to make informed decisions in the future.
Similarly, Carleton College released a public statement after receiving pressure from alumni and friends of the school to publicly oppose the marriage amendment. According to Eric Sieger, Carleton’s director of media relations, the college’s mission is to educate students and encourage them to act as individuals upon their convictions. He affirmed that the school does not take political stances on social issues that aren’t educationally founded. Augsburg College remains the only Minnesota college to publicly denounce the marriage amendment.
Regardless of one’s political dispositions, there is danger in any college, as a bastion of liberal education and free thought, sanctioning a particular political persuasion over another.
It is an honor and a privilege to be taught by such knowledgeable and progressive professors. It is also an incredible experience being part of a campus where so many beliefs and lifestyles can coexist. But while the St. Olaf faculty members should be lauded for their universal perspectives and inclusiveness, I in no way wish that St. Olaf would officially adopt the Vote No proposal. It is important that students learn how to think independently and are fostered in an environment that allows them to formulate their own policy decisions.
For the sake of open-mindedness and higher education, let’s allow the students to decide for themselves what to believe.
Bjorn Thompson ’15 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Edina, Minn. His major is currently undecided.