I write regarding your article on the new public affairs Institute, the Institute for Freedom and Community. As you correctly reported, I believe the Institute will provide great opportunities for students. A faculty task force designed the basic framework of the Institute which is to focus on public affairs in a way that encourages civic discourse and engagement with diverse perspectives. This vision is consistent with the mission of St. Olaf College which is to “respect those of different backgrounds and beliefs” and to encourage and challenge students to be “seekers of truth” and “responsible and knowledgable citizens of the world.” While the task force designed the framework, the Institute will be defined by what it does. Working with the task force, the faculty, students, and administration of this college will determine the direction of this project. To support our efforts, we are fortunate to have received external support from generous friends of the college and a major national academic foundation.
The Institute has resources for new courses a new conversation program tentatively titled the Public Affairs Conversation which must be approved by the faculty. It also includes a conference with a topic yet to be determined. There will be paid internships for students, lectures, visiting fellows, and other student activities. We have some introductory lectures and visiting fellows planned, but there will be a long line of visitors and public events yet to be determined.
The article included the view that we are following an unprecedented process to launch the Institute. I respectfully disagree; we are following a long-established standard operating procedure. This college has received thousands of external grants and gifts. The curriculum committee and faculty have never vetted the pursuit of grants and gifts. When the grants include resources for courses and curricular academic programs, the Curriculum Committee and the entire faculty must approve the courses and curricular programs. The task force of the new Institute continues this process and respects the power of the faculty to approve courses and academic programs.
Grants also often include co-curricular programs that have never depended upon a faculty vote. Faculty can advise and plan co-curricular events and programs, but they do not approve them by vote. Student governance structures also allow students to plan co-curricular events. Potentially, the Institute could co-sponsor events with students. For example, the Institute might fund and co-sponsor an event with PAC. This would require approval by PAC. Students also organize groups and events such as a debate team, political groups, town hall meetings, etc.. These events and groups are premised on the approval of student government with limited administrative and faculty oversight. The Institute looks forward to working with students on new co-curricular ventures.
We have begun to define this project and have sought community input. There have been four open faculty forums, discussion at faculty meetings, an introductory conversation with the Curriculum Committee, and a beginning discussion with PAC and SGA,. The task force has much consultation and other work yet to be done. We hope to engage this community as we define and develop this project. In the end, the Institute will provide more opportunities for Oles to be involved in public affairs. We will be more thoughtful citizens and many more of us will enter vocations and careers in public affairs. Fram Fram.
Professor of Political Science
Associate Dean of the Social Sciences
Director, Institute for Freedom and Community