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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton should have attempted to fix MPIRG

<r Editor,

I have been reading responses to last week’s vote on the MPIRG fee, and I would like to offer a viewpoint I haven’t seen expressed yet.

Why would students at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere want to be affiliated with a Minneapolis-based organization like MPIRG? This is a question I repeatedly asked myself four years ago as a freshman at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Morris is three hours west of the Twin Cities, and one of the three MPIRG chapters at schools outside the metro area in greater Minnesota. Most members of our chapter didn’t understand the relationship we had to other MPIRG chapters or the state office. The organization didn’t seem accountable to our campus, we had bad relationships with MPIRG staff, and talks of leaving the MPIRG network were frequent. Back then, if I had heard that students at Carleton were organizing to defund MPIRG and kick the organization off campus, I would have not only supported those efforts, but also may have started a similar campaign at Morris. But that was four years ago.

MPIRG has improved immensely in the past three years, especially in its relationships with schools outside the metro area. Part of this can be attributed to new staff people who were alumni of MPIRG at the University of Minnesota, Duluth campus, but a greater driving force in these improvements has been students. Students from UMD and Morris have been among the most vocal on the State Board of Directors this year. What’s more, Morris and UMD students have taken leadership of the organization, being voted into the positions of Vice-Chair and Secretary of the Executive Committee for next year. Students at schools that were having problems with MPIRG have commanded the respect of students at other campuses, the staff, and the entire organization, and are using this power to correct problems within MPIRG.

If something is broken, you don’t throw it away; you fix it. Four years ago, when Morris students had issues with the statewide MPIRG organization, we could have destructively engaged the situation by removing ourselves from the MPIRG network instead of constructively engaging the organization to make it meet our needs. We would not have broken through the chains of oppression, but would have broken our ties to the only completely student-directed NGO in Minnesota. We would have lost the access to the tools offered by a statewide network, the communication with student allies at other campuses working on similar on-campus issues, and the opportunity to coordinate campaigns off-campus at the statewide level, such as the recent Minnesota ban on the chemical BPA in children’s products.

One thing that bothers me about the situation at Carleton is that there were students working to stay with MPIRG, who saw something worthwhile in the organization, and were willing to work to improve the relationship between Carleton and MPIRG. As I understand it, the majority of the students that organized to remove MPIRG from campus are graduating. Their legacy at Carleton is the removal of an organization that had been there for 38 years because they’ve had a bad experience with it. They will not be around to build anything in its place. Most of the students I talked to who wanted to keep MPIRG on campus will be here next year and for several years to come.

I am not an MPIRG staff member, but a recent graduate from a small liberal arts college in greater Minnesota who has been angry at the organization before. I understand where some of these Vote No folks are coming from. I do. But instead of building something in MPIRG’s place, I give you a different challenge, if y’all are up to it: use MPIRG as a vehicle to extend your power and to coordinate with students on other campuses. It is obvious that students at Carleton are passionate organizers of issues they care about, so correct MPIRG’s problems and lead a broad-based statewide student movement. I reiterate, if something is broken, you shouldn’t throw it away… especially if other folks, the current Carleton MPIRG members, want to fix it.

Thank you,

Matt Abbott
University of Minnesota, Morris ’09
Special Delegate to the MPIRG State Board of Directors 2008-2009

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