My Alumni Weekend at Macalester

Early June is alumni weekend time at many private colleges, where past graduates gather to revisit old haunts, compare notes with fellow classmates, and hear stirring pronouncements from current administrators. It is also where donation-seeking alumni offices hope to inspire alumni to step up their donations.

My alma mater is Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, a formerly Presbyterian, internationally-minded college of some 2000 students. It can count among its past students and faculty Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Kofi Annan. 

I was aware that the college had become dependably politically correct. But at the alumni weekend in June I discovered just how far Macalester has moved from the values of “Western Civ” it instilled in the 1960s.

I’ll admit to being a provocateur even before attending this year’s alumni event. I am a member of The Macalester Alumni of Moderation (Mac Mods), an informal, e-mail-connected group that seeks to steer Macalester toward more intellectual diversity and balance and away from a leftist mindset and a seeming obsession with victimology.

We include past and present students and professors, including some who wish not to be identified on our email list—itself an ominous sign. The political leanings of our membership run from left to right, and may well include more Democrats than Republicans. We don’t know and we don’t care. We simply want a full and fair hearing for all viewpoints.

The college has reluctantly acknowledged our existence and granted us a classroom and an hour’s time among the dozens of scheduled meetings and events of the three-day Alumni Weekend. I led this year’s discussion and presented my own evidence of a lack of balance at Macalester: in commencement and guest speakers, course offerings and descriptions thereof, and college media.

Macalester’s course offerings and descriptions may be accessed on its site. They quickly reveal an appearance of bias. 

For example, to major in history, a student would likely take the introductory American history series. The first logical course would be History 135, entitled American Violence to 1800:  Age of Contact to the American Revolution.  The second course in this series is History 136, American Violence 1800 to 1865:  The Early Republic to the Civil War. 

No additional broad survey of American history past 1865 is offered (not enough violence?), but narrower slices of American history are. They include History 248:  Jim Crow, as well as History 228:  Gender and Sexuality in Colonial America and the Early Republic

Similar titles and course descriptions that appear to promote grievances and victimhood exist throughout many other departments. For example, our American Studies program declares that it emphasizes “race as a central dimension of U.S. History and contemporary social life.” One of the courses is on the “Hunger Games” novels.

Or if a student wants to study art history, offerings include such courses as: “Gender, Sexualities, and Feminist Visual Culture,” and “Race, Ethnicity, Class, and Gender in American Art.”

The obsession with race and gender continues throughout the catalogue.

On the other hand, Macalester does have a course on entrepreneurship—but it has been offered just once in the last seven years.

I urged alumni attendees at our meeting to look up the course offerings and descriptions of their own major at Macalester and judge for themselves.

Other indicators of political correctness abound at Macalester. The quarterly alumni bulletin, Macalester Today, touts student and faculty accomplishments in multiculturalism, sustainability, and community organizing, but very little credit is given to America’s humanitarian role in the world, its productive market economy, or its human rights record.  The student newspaper, Mac Weekly, in both news articles and letters, shows a similar slant. Readers hardly ever hear about good coming from free enterprise and voluntary action, or about waste and harm to individuals caused by government actions.

In my hour-long session with alumni, I mentioned a final area of apparent bias—the selection of speakers invited to the campus. Though invitees seem accomplished in their field, students are almost never exposed to conservative speakers or private sector success stories. At this point, an administration representative objected, citing one speaker last year who voiced a right-of-center viewpoint (Reihan Salam of National Review).

Reid MacLean, associate director of major gifts, described at length and with apparent pride Salam’s visit, which was in 2011, as proof of balance at Macalester. His strained effort only confirmed our suspicion that tokenism is alive and well.

In another ominous sign, the Alumni Office sent a recent graduate to take down names and contact information of those attending the Mac Mods meeting. Two of us objected strenuously to this intrusion, and she ceased taking names, but then went out into the hallway to intercept people headed to our classroom.

I later emailed Gabrielle Lawrence, head of the Alumni Office, asking if any other meetings had representatives of the administration who attempted to take down names and contact information. Her reply: “We always have a student at every reunion event to take attendance, not names, just a headcount.” That, however, is not true, as attendees, including the associate director of major gifts, will attest.

Should the Macalester administration and faculty worry that their leftward tilt will alienate alumni and other donors from financial support?  By outward appearances, the college’s fiscal situation appears sound. New state-of-the art buildings are rising, and existing facilities are pristine, with all the resort-style amenities to wow touring high school juniors. 

Yet this graduate, recalling the years of packing a sandwich and hitchhiking daily to campus, cannot not help wondering if these environmentally correct buildings and the proliferation of deanships and obscure departments really help students learn. Many of the ballyhooed programs seem to be just for show—to impress students, parents, and potential donors with Macalester’s progressive credentials.

Most who were present at the Mac Mods meeting had been past donors and most swore off future giving. One who years ago had manned the phones for Macalester to solicit donations claimed many alumni refused to give due to the perceived direction of the college.

The real cost of four years in a politically correct environment is borne by the students themselves. With classes in victimology, with professors and an administration that are relentlessly progressive, and with media and campus speakers possessing a similar mindset, students are denied the liberal education, in the classic sense of the word, that they deserve.

They will graduate with a skewed view of the world and without the critical thinking skills that can only be honed in an atmosphere of intellectual diversity—an atmosphere that is now clearly missing at Macalester College.