Editorial: Hamline created its Emmer mess

  • Article by: EDITORIAL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 16, 2011 - 7:02 PM

Botched hiring signals that conservatives aren't welcome.

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Dr. Anne M. McCarthy is dean of Hamline University School of Business.

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Hamline University officials apparently forgot to consult their own diversity policy as they weighed, then abruptly ended, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer's teaching future at the St. Paul liberal arts school.

According to the policy, Hamline is "committed to ... developing and maintaining academic/co-curricular programs and university climate that promises a responsible, civil and open exchange of ideas.''

Hamline's apparent bungling of employment negotiations with Emmer suggests that commitment only goes so far, that conservatives such as Emmer are not welcome on campus.

While this page strongly differs with Emmer's strident views on taxes, health reform, state's rights and social issues, especially when it comes to the state's proposed marriage amendment, the Hamline incident raises disturbing questions about academic freedom and administrative backbone at one of Minnesota's most respected educational institutions.

Although Hamline officials declined comment for this editorial, it appears that the university reneged on at least one viable job offer, possibly two, because of last-minute faculty objections to Emmer's politics, particularly his stance on gay marriage.

Emmer, a lawyer and former legislator who landed a radio gig after he lost the governor's race, is now claiming he's a victim of political discrimination.

That's no doubt hard for some to stomach given his discriminatory views on gay marriage, but Emmer has a point. This week, he provided multiple e-mails that appear to be from Hamline staffers about his potential employment.

A reasonable person would have concluded that this was a done deal -- that Emmer would teach next spring as a business law instructor and that he'd landed a nonteaching position as an "executive in residence."

In an Oct. 6 e-mail, a Hamline professor is urging Emmer to make a quick decision on when he can teach so she get "things ready for spring registration."

An Oct. 7 e-mail from Jane McPeak, an associate dean for academic affairs, states that "Emmer ... will be joining the School of Business soon as an Executive in Residence.''

In a Friday interview, Emmer said the gubernatorial race diverted his attention from his law practice. He added that he's always wanted to teach.

Emmer approached other Twin Cities schools this year to discuss similar arrangements, but wasn't hired.

He said that Hamline's new business school dean, Anne McCarthy, was interested in developing a public-policy forum specializing in state and local issues. Emmer said there was also interest in having him raise funds for the business school.

Things allegedly went south when Emmer showed up at a November faculty meeting. In a long letter sent to Hamline President Linda Hanson, Emmer details the back-and-forth conversations he had with McCarthy about faculty opposition.

According to Emmer, McCarthy continued to convey her support until the conversation where she said the university couldn't bring him on board because of a "very vocal few" professors.

It's unclear who at Hamline ultimately quashed Emmer's employment. The university not only owes Emmer an explanation, but the broader community as well.

Rejecting Emmer for his beliefs instead of his qualifications sends a clear message that there is room on campus for only a narrow spectrum of viewpoints.

And while many may find Emmer's stances alarming, the reality is that 43.2 percent of those who voted in the 2010 election found him the best gubernatorial candidate. Are those Minnesotans not welcome at Hamline either?

Hamline officials should have expected Emmer's hiring to be controversial, but they shouldn't have been cowed by the blowback. Educators above all should realize that offering students a broad range of perspectives better enables them to discern the truth.

That Hamline's leaders apparently gave the boot to Emmer simply because of his politics suggest a startling lack of confidence in their students, faculty and the institution.

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