Monday, May 03, 2004

Editorial staff should talk to their reporter 

Our local newspaper thinks we're "thin-skinned" for being opposed to mandatory diversity training. (Warning: that link will go dead at the end of the day, so the following is the entire editorial, reprinted without permission.)
Today through Wednesday about 900 faculty, administrators and staff at St. Cloud State University will attend a 75-minute training session on diversity.

Based on a Times news report last week, few, if any, people at the university are happy about it. Some object to it being mandatory, others balk at it occurring during finals week, and still others question if it is really what was intended when the university settled a recent $1.25 million discrimination suit.

So much anger seems an over-reaction to one session lasting not even two hours. Yet the divisive reaction also shows just how big a challenge university leaders face in addressing this issue.

True, nobody likes being told what to do. But that's also a reality of the working world, of which the university is a part.

In this case, St. Cloud State -- the employer -- has settled some discrimination claims in recent years and still faces others. It only makes sense to require all employees to attend sessions aimed at educating them about diversity issues.

Frankly, those who feel such a logical solution implies everyone is guilty have awfully thin skin.

For example, say the university had recently paid big bucks for work-related injuries. As a way to prevent more injuries, it mandated all employees to attend training sessions on proper lifting techniques or correct posture at work stations.

Does that mean the university is implying all healthy workers are ignorant of such techniques? No. It simply means the university is doing what it thinks is best at the time to prevent further harm and improve its work force.

This diversity training should be viewed in much the same light.

And as any experienced worker can attest to, such training sessions are never scheduled at a convenient time for everyone.

As for concerns about the training and how it fits into the $1.25 million settlement, those details will need to be decided in court. Perhaps this time, though, all the details and findings will be made public so people have a clear understanding of what led to the training in the first place.
Sigh. How many ways is this wrong? Let me count.
  1. "Divisive reaction"? Ah, this must be the same logic that makes Cheri Yecke's refusal to kowtow to Education Minne$ota "divisive". Apparently the Times' thesaurus has 'divisive' and 'disagreement' as synonyms. I didn't get that memo.
  2. The comparison to the working world assumes that the mission of a university is just like the mission of a ball-bearing plant or McDonalds. Universities are unique; they are places where truth is to be pursued above all else. They have this thing called academic freedom. They have tenure.
  3. There is no finding of guilt. I'll keep saying it until others join me.
  4. " only makes sense to educate" us on diversity issues? You mean, this is the first time it's ever happened? I guess the polite way to say this is "get your head out of, um, the sand."
  5. The letter commanding us to training from President Saigo in no way implies that the training will tell us how to avoid lawsuits. I'll check that during live-blogging of the event later.
  6. While the timing may or may not be convenient, what worries us much more is that the training is hastily conceived. The previous training had more than six months to be conceived, planned and executed, while this was done in less than a month. How good could it be? We'll find out.
The sad part is, if the editors had even taken ten minutes to talk to their own reporter, half of these mistakes could have been avoided.