Faculty votes, opposes controversial amendments to state constitution

On Friday, Sept. 21 a group of 103 faculty members voted on a resolution to publicly oppose a Minnesota constitutional amendment defining the nature of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Though the college, as an institution, has chosen not to officially endorse this position, the faculty passed the resolution independently. In doing so, they join the ranks of several MIAC school faculty who have voiced their opposition to the marriage amendment as well, including St. Olaf College, Macalester College and most recently, Hamline University. Other establishments have opposed the amendment at an institutional level like that of Augsburg College and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).

A draft of the resolution, written in opposition to the amendment, was brought to the monthly faculty meeting by the Faculty Senate who had met in early September and deliberated on the issue.

Associate Professor of History and LALACS, and member of the Faculty Senate, Sujay Rao said that despite no seeming historical precedent for a faculty decision regarding an issue usually reserved to a more political arena, he felt it was necessary to engage in dialogue about it.  because the amendment presents what many deem a civil rights issue.

“When both students and faculty are affected by an issue, it is important that it be addressed. In the Faculty Senate we discussed the question of when do we take action and when don’t we, and in this case it is more than just a difference of opinion—it has become a civil rights issue,” Rao said.

A suggestion to table the decision, which occurred at the start of the faculty meeting, sparked lengthy conversation about the faculty’s role in taking a stance on issues similar to the proposed marriage amendment. Associate Professor of Political Science Jill Locke, who was present at the meeting, said she believed a “desire to postpone was a desire for defeat” as election day approaches.

The motion to table was defeated, yet the opportunity to explore the deeper question of the faculty’s role in the discussion of the constitutional amendment was significant in order to establish an acceptable rationale for such involvement.  Locke said the nature of the issue determined the faculty’s sense of responsibility. The fact that the issue is one of constitutional amendment and not a voting initiative was particularly important in the deliberation. Locke was quick to assert that the faculty would not be endorsing candidates or political parties in their opposition to the amendment.

Creative Commons

Students were allowed to sit and watch the proceedings of the meeting unfold. Many showed up wearing Vote NO shirts to voice their opposition to the amendment and show their support for the faculty in passing the resolution. Members of the College Democrats, Gustavus United for All Families and other interested parties were also in attendance. Some weighed in with how the meeting impacted them.

Junior Scandinavian Studies and Political Science Major Annalise Dobbelstein, attending as a member of Gustavus United for All Families, appreciated the honesty and careful consideration the faculty spoke with in their addresses.

“The best part was hearing the faculty stand up and speak out about what they believed in, no matter their opinion,” Dobbelstein said. “In the end, however, the majority of the faculty came together because it was a community issue that affected civil rights.”

Sophomore Art History and Communication Studies Major Mariah Wika, attending as a member of the College Democrats, spoke to the faculty’s discussion of the issue as well.

“They [those in opposition to the amendment] did not ask the faculty to agree on the subject of gay marriage, but they could agree that they wished the conversation to continue and that it shouldn’t be shut down by a constitutional amendment,” Wika said.

Mathematics and Computer Science Professor Max Hailperin commented on the importance of discussing a controversial issue like the marriage amendment amongst the college faculty and the importance of respecting all opinions, whether majority or minority.

“I deeply believe that our Faculty can only remain healthy so long as we periodically remind ourselves of the importance of freedom of conscience and academic freedom. Taking a vote about a question of deeply held values seemed like an important time for this reminder. In an academic setting, multiple ideas need to remain in the mix, rather than one being allowed to exclude others,” Hailperin said.

After amending the language of the resolution generated by the Faculty Senate to remove any association with Minnesotans United for All Families, a ballot vote was conducted to provide anonymity to those voting. The resolution passed 83-17 with three abstentions. The exact wording of the resolution appears adjacent to the article.

As evidenced in the voting record, not all of the faculty were in agreement on the issue. Associate Professor of Economics and Management Glenn Barnette expressed his opposition to be a combination of personal belief, a desire not to alienate people with differing opinions and a belief that there shouldn’t be faculty involvement in the political arena.

Barnette proposed an amendment to the resolution after it was passed to include a clause affirming Gustavus’ ongoing commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression. This amendment did not pass, however, likely because several faculty members believed these rights are already protected in the Faculty Manual and did not see the occasion to treat this situation differently.

Although the majority of the faculty discussion centered around the marriage amendment, the faculty also voted at the same meeting to pass a resolution in opposition of the Voter Identification Amendment, a measure that would alter the Minnesota constitution to require all voters to have valid, state-issued identification in order to be eligible to vote.

This amendment raised similar civil rights issues as it would disproportionately affect those groups considered more marginalized populations like students, racial minorities, the elderly and those below the poverty line. The resolution passed 84-14 with two abstentions, making Gustavus faculty the first in the MIAC to publicly oppose the amendment. The Gustavian Weekly was not able to account for the three faculty votes missing from this particular vote.


Faculty resolution in opposition of the Marriage Amendment 

“The Gustavus Adolphus College faculty voices its opposition to the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.

We strongly affirm the mission and core values of Gustavus Adolphus College, in particular Community, Leadership, and Justice, which propel the faculty’s opposition to the amendment. We seek to promote civility and mutual respect among all people in our community, both on campus and across Minnesota. Our core values impel the faculty to take a stand affirming the dignity, equality, and human rights of all people, including LGBT faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Gustavus Adolphus College.”


Faculty resolution in opposition of  the Voter I.D. Amendment

“The Gustavus Adolphus College faculty voices its opposition to the proposed Minnesota constitutional amendment mandating voter identification requirements.

The proposed amendment could not be in starker contrast to the mission of the college and the core values we uphold and work to impart to our students—the values of community, justice, leadership, and service. The amendment disproportionally burdens college students, the poor, and the elderly.  In opposing the proposed voter identification amendment, the faculty is leading by example and demonstrating that our mission statement is a living reality.”

3 thoughts on “Faculty votes, opposes controversial amendments to state constitution

  1. One correction: The Macalester faculty voted to oppose the amendment to change electoral procedures at its faculty meeting earlier this month.

  2. After reading this article, I have a few concerns to express. First, I am troubled by the fact that many of the students I heard promoting the actual voting event could not give me a good reason—or any reason, for that matter—for the vote, and the article did nothing to remedy that. There was talk about “faculty responsibility” and “the faculty’s role in taking a stance” on controversial amendments, but Jill Locke’s words were also paraphrased as “the faculty would not be endorsing candidates or political parties in their opposition to the amendment.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that this “vote” really didn’t do anything except provide numbers of “Vote Yes-ers” and “Vote No-ers” to pit against each other. If “the college, as an institution has chosen not to officially endorse” the independent passing of the resolution by the majority of the faculty—which I am grateful for, as I think that would seriously compromise Gustavus’ dedication to a safe and civil environment for diversity of opinion—then I see no positive effects from this little “meeting.” Yes, I agree that the fact that both the voter ID and the marriage amendment are to the state constitution and not simply voting initiatives does mean that more is at stake. However, I don’t see why any group of people at our school—students or staff—would feel the need to put issues to a vote, which has no bearing on the actual passing of the resolutions; the only reason I can possibly think of is particularly upsetting: that these numbers give faculty members and/or students a percentage of people at Gustavus that need to be “converted” to one side or the other.

Comments are closed.