A University of Minnesota regent who asked at a public meeting this month whether one of the system’s campuses was “too diverse” has resigned as vice chairman of the board. Steven A. Sviggum, who asked a question about the Morris campus at a board committee meeting, said he would continue as regent until his term ends in 2023.
During the meeting, Sviggum said he had received two letters from people whose children decided not to enroll at Morris because “they just didn’t feel comfortable there.” This correspondence prompted Sviggum to ask, “Is it possible, based on the specifics of Morris, that we have become too diverse for a student to participate?”
After nearly two weeks of backlash, Sviggum sent his resignation letter to board chairman Kendall J. Powell on Tuesday. After the two met on Saturday morning, Sviggum wrote: “I have come to the understanding that I must resign as Vice Chairman with immediate effect. I owe this position to my colleagues who have shown disapproval of my actions.
Sviggum made his controversial remarks as a board committee discussed declining enrollment at Morris and the system’s other regional comprehensive campuses. Morris University’s acting chancellor and associate regent disputed the comments at the time. Interview together Chronicle Last week, Sviggum said he “makes no connection” between declining enrollment and increased diversity. He also defended his right to raise issues, even if they were apolitical, and described the reaction to his original remarks as “indicative of the extremism that exists in our society”.
He later released a statement through a university spokesperson.
“Please allow me to apologize unequivocally for my questions, and especially for any unintended harm my questions may have caused. They meant no harm, but my intention is irrelevant. I am truly sorry for those I have harmed or offended, and for all those associated with our great university,” Sviggum wrote in a statement. “My intent — recognizing that my words matter — was to advance the discussion about Morris’s steadily declining enrollment numbers , which is not a one-year trend or even a problem that has emerged from the Covid pandemic. Rather, student numbers have been declining for years (50 percent below peak levels), and the future of this great campus depends on finding solutions to reverse this trend.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Sviggum said he had no further comment. Through a spokeswoman, Powell referred to a statement he issued last week apologizing on behalf of the board for Sviggum’s remarks. “We all have a responsibility to speak up and condemn this issue, whether at Thursday’s meeting or Friday’s meeting,” the statement said. “As the leader of our board, I should have done better and I’m not proud of my inaction.”
Morris Campus Acting Chancellor Janet Schrunk Ericksen also declined to comment on Sviggum’s resignation.
Morris Campus Student Union Monday adopted the resolution called for Sviggum to resign or be removed as vice chairman, citing his “standing for the institutional values of diversity and equality.” Association president Dylan Young, a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, also wrote a a letter to Sviggum last week that his connections to the Native American community on campus have been an important part of his college experience. More than 200 student organizations and individuals also signed Young’s letter. (Young declined further comment in an email Tuesday Chronicle.)
More than 140 Morris faculty and staff signed another open letter “reaffirming their support for diversity and inclusion at Morris and addressing the erroneous premise of the Sviggum question.” The letter, addressed to the Morris community and prospective students, listed several initiatives focused on diversity on campus.
Sviggum, a former speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, has previously resigned from the board. In 2012, he resigned from the board after a three-member panel determined he had an “unmanageable conflict of interest” between his roles as regent and chief spokesman for the Senate Republican caucus, MPR News reported at the time. Sviggum was re-elected to the board in 2017.