NIU provost explains letter

By Vickie Snow

NIU Provost Kendall Baker tried to ease the tensions of some students and faculty who were offended by an anti-discrimination chain letter from NIU.

At a University Council meeting Wednesday Baker said the letter was sent by President John La Tourette to 165 students, staff and faculty who attended the Jan. 28 conference titled “Racial Discrimination on Campus: Promoting Peer Initiatives and Student Action.”

Baker said the letter was intended to be a “pledge concerning racial discrimination on the NIU campus.

“The pledge was merely an attempt to provide a vehicle for self-reaffirmation of a personal commitment to end racism and discrimination on this campus,” he said.

The letter included a pledge to fight racism, which was to be signed and returned to La Tourette’s office.

“Any administrative official, or anyone else who represents the university officially, who thinks racism can be fought in this fashion thoroughly misunderstands what racism is,” said Sherman Stanage, an NIU philosophy professor and a member of the UC and Faculty Assembly.

Stanage said having to sign a pledge against racism and return it to La Tourette was inappropriate.

The letter, sent mostly to students, requested the recipient contact 10 friends, who would in turn contact more people, and “urge them to make a commitment to work toward the elimination of discrimination on campus,” Baker said.

“The letter became known as a sort of chain letter of loyalty oath,” said UC Executive Secretary J. Carroll Moody.

Stanage, who believes the letter was “not a remotely reasonable way to address the problems of racism,” said Baker had no alternative but to “apologize on behalf of the administration.”

However, Moody said Baker’s actions were not necessarily an apology but “an expression of regret.”

Moody said he was contacted by members of the FA and other concerned people before the issue was discussed at the UC meeting.

Baker, who spoke for vacationing La Tourette, said the form was voluntary so individuals should not have been asked to return it to the president’s office.

But Moody said many recipients saw the letter as “an inappropriate way of handling a just cause.

“No one had anything but honorable intentions. No one has suggested any bad motives—just the methods and implications were a problem,” Moody said.

Baker said the important issue at hand is not the “process of securing commitments,” but the message of La Tourette’s action.

La Tourette had written in the letter, “Racial discrimination is incompatible with our democratic ideals and it is particularly important that colleges and universities be the leaders in stopping acts of racism on campus.”