Letter of Support

Note: if you are an MCTC student or represent an organization that would like to sign on to this letter of support, please email higheredjusticemn@gmail.com by Friday, February 14.

February 14, 2014

To: Chancellor Rosenstone, MnSCU Board of Trustees, Legislators, Governor Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Higher Education, Stakeholders, and Community Members of Conscience:

Re: Rescinding Shannon Gibney’s letter of reprimand, improving MCTC diversity leadership, and increasing systemic accountability for racial equity

We write this letter today to express our solidary with Minneapolis Community and Technical
College (MCTC) Professor Shannon Gibney in her fight to educate all students about structural racism in America and in our communities.In the wake of recent events and persisting disparities in educational opportunity for students of color, we also write to urge you to actively implement the mission of MCTC and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System (MnSCU) by committing to secure racial equity in higher education. Specifically, we ask that you rescind the letter of reprimand to Shannon Gibney; strengthen diversity leadership throughout the MCTC and MnSCU administrations; and increase systemic accountability for leaders and diversity initiatives.

• Rescind the Letter of Reprimand issued to Professor Gibney

On October 31, 2013, MCTC wrongly issued a letter of reprimand to Professor Gibney for teaching a class about structural racism. Despite her efforts to lead a constructive classroom discussion about race that challenged students to expand their awareness of systemic inequality, MCTC chose to defend several students who refused to participate in the lesson. These students complained about the class discussion to the administration, triggering an erroneous and biased investigation that culminated in MCTC’s unjust reprimand of Professor Gibney. The administration’s response, which restricts education on structural racism, is a disservice to students, the school, and the community. Although discussions about racism may be uncomfortable for many students, these discussions are essential building blocks for students in their quest to become well-rounded, consciously contributing members to contemporary American society. As many popular media outlets have observed, MCTC’s reprimand reveals the administration’s problematic undervaluation of these critical discussions, particularly when offered by professors of color.

In support of Professor Gibney’s contributions, we ask that MCTC immediately rescind its letter of reprimand. We also urge the administration to take notice of the local and national attention that this controversy has caused, and the broad support that Professor Gibney has received. By rescinding the reprimand, MCTC could publicly demonstrate its willingness to begin improving race relations at our school.

• Improve diversity leadership at MCTC

To strengthen diversity leadership, we ask that you conduct a national search for the highest quality Chief Diversity Officer for MCTC. Currently, diversity initiatives are either non-existent or deficient. The administration’s treatment of Professor Gibney, the low completion of rate of Black male (9%) and female (14%) students at MCTC, and the alarming flight of professors and faculty of color signal the need for competent and visionary diversity leadership.

We also ask that you remove MCTC President Phil Davis and his leadership team immediately, as this team has created the context and climate of racial enmity that is responsible for some of the worst educational and work-related transgressions that continue to occur every day on our campus. The local Minnesota State College Faculty (MSCF) faculty union and Minnesota Association of Professional Employees (MAPE) union have issued “Votes of No Confidence” on Davis and his administration for over a year. The fact that neither the Chancellor nor MnSCU leadership have acted on this blatant call for help is unacceptable. These systemic failures continue to put our most vulnerable students and staff at risk; they are a disappointment, an embarrassment, and a broken promise to our community.

In Davis’ place, we ask that you install an Interim President at MCTC who has demonstrated competence in the areas of educational leadership and institutional racial equity; for this position, we recommend Dr. Joi Lewis. We then urge you to conduct a comprehensive, national search for a new MCTC President, Head of Legal Affairs, Chief Financial Officers, and Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs.

• Increase systemic accountability for racial equity

Finally, we ask you to fully commit to increasing racial equity throughout MCTC by holding leaders accountable for effective diversity initiatives. This includes empowering and fully supporting the MnSCU Diversity Office to assess and implement equity initiatives across the system. As reports such as the MCTC Student Equity Audit Report (January 2013) and the MCTC Climate Assessment Report (December 2012) have documented, students and faculty of color on campus consistently experience strained race relations on campus. However, the Diversity Office cannot improve the environment for these students and staff without the power to do so. In order to be effective, the MnSCU Diversity Office must have the ability to determine and enforce policies, procedures, and programming across the MnSCU system, and must also be fully staffed. As it stands now, this office lacks human resources and the power to enact meaningful equitable change.

Relatedly, we also call on the Governor and his team to make appointments, especially in the area of education, who have expertise implementing racial justice initiatives and who have employed racial justice as a guiding principle in their work. We believe that along with MCTC and MnSCU, our elected leaders are also responsible for remedying the racial disparities that continue to plague our society.

• Conclusion

Numerous news reports and studies continue to decry the abysmal state of education for communities of color in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. It is in this context of increasing urgency that we write this letter today, and respectfully ask you to implement these changes immediately. Bureaucratic inconsistencies such as these are life and death issues for our community, and we cannot wait any longer for equal and fair opportunity.

Given the urgency of our demands, we ask that you respond to this letter by March 1, 2014.

Respectfully,

Higher Education Justice Minnesota
higheredjusticemn@gmail.com

Center for Earth Energy and Democracy
Community Action Against Racism
Confederation of Somali Community in MN
CrossingBarriers
Free Poets Press
Graduate Interdisciplinary Group in Sexuality Studies (University of MN)
Line Break Media
Little Earth of United Tribes
Living Justice Press
MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change
Navigate MN
Network of Politicized Adoptees
Occupy Homes MN
Organizing Apprenticeship Project
Pan-Asian Voices for Equity-MN
Women's Student Activist Collective (University of MN)
Public Education Justice Alliance of Minnesota (PEJAM)

Tavis Roy (MCTC Student)
Dinah Bullock (MCTC Student)
Angelica Harmon (MCTC Student)
Kate Berger Tremaine (MCTC Student)
Niko Georgiades (MCTC Student)
Jamie Laudert (MCTC Student)\
Chaun Webster (MCTC Student)