Macalester College in St. Paul holds its annual alumni reunion next weekend (June 5-6), but it is not for everybody. Political moderates, for example, aren’t welcome. Specifically, a group called Macalester Alumni of Moderation or the Mac Mods have been refused permission to participate, for the second year in a row.
It is not as if this liberal arts college is shy in mixing politics with alumni events. It just has to be the right kind of politics. There is identity politics, as in the Alumni of Color Third Reunion, with its own schedule of fun stuff. There is green politics, as in the Zero-Waste Picnic and “Being Green at Macalester” event to learn about the College’s “new initiatives for sustainability.” There is anti-nationalist politics, as in the tour of the new Institute for Global Citizenship. And there is a double dip of Obama politics with the Forum on Race: The Obama Impact I and II. All this is mixed in with tennis, volleyball, a brewery tour, alumni awards, book discussions, dances, a puppet show, and helpful explanations of how alumni can give more money.
So why the cold shoulder to the Mac Mods? According to Mac Mod founder Roger S. Peterson (class of 1967), his group was welcome at two alumni events but at the second of those, the Mac Mods did something the College didn’t like. They invited a reporter. Katherine Kersten’s subsequent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (June 7, 2007) gave a platform for the Mac Mods’ criticisms of the College, which have mostly to do with imbalances in the curriculum and lack of intellectual diversity. Kerston wrote, for example:
What comes to mind when you think of an American Studies Department? At Macalester, its overwhelming focus is on race, gender and ethnic minorities. For example, you can take a course like "Black Queer Positionality: Narration, Negotiation, Identity," which aims to "more fully understand and articulate a black queer 'theory in the flesh.'-"
Macalester's History Department offered no courses on the American founding or World War II during this last academic year. But it listed many courses with titles such as "Gender and Sexuality in Colonial America and the Early Republic" and "Consumer Nation: American Consumer Culture in the 20th Century."
This isn’t the sort of publicity a college would welcome, but did Macalester respond wisely by telling its alumni critics to get lost?
I came to this story circuitously. In April I happened to spend a few hours at Macalester and noticed the new Institute for Global Citizenship in the final stages of construction. I was curious and followed up in an article, Macalester Preps for World Domination, which in turn caught the eye of Roger S. Peterson. He contacted me with an account of his stubbornly middle-of-the-road alumni group that spends its time objecting that, at Macalester, the road has no middle. It is left-sided all the way across.
Is this so? I have not attempted to dig deep into Macalester’s curriculum or campus culture. My few glimpses of it suggest that, yes, it has its share of grim ideological conformity and faculty members who belong to the race-gender-class-explain-everything school of self-congratulatory heuristics. But I know some faculty members there who are not members of that school. And I spent part of my few hours on campus listening to a marathon public reading by students of the Aeneid, with passages read first in Latin, then English. The epic reading of Virgil’s epic poem attracted only a dozen or so listeners, but never mind. The venture spoke to some surviving spirit of liberal learning at Macalester, no matter how many course on Black Queer Positionality are stuffed into the course catalog, or how many monuments to global citizenship are erected.
Virgil, incidentally, is a pretty good reply to World Citizenship.
The Mac Mods, according to Peterson, have some positionality of their own. They intend to mount a protest at next weekend’s reunion. I predict nothing will be broken. Epithets will not be hurled. Entrances and exits will not be blocked. Speakers will not be drowned out. Podia will not be rushed. The Mac Mods wield only the weapons of moderation. Perhaps that is what Macalester fears most.