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UMN regent resigns as vice chair after backlash from 'diversity' comments

Sviggum was met with backlash by members of the public as well as other regents after questioning if the University of Minnesota-Morris had become too diverse of a campus.

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University of Minnesota regent Steve Sviggum speaks during a meeting of the Board of Regents at the McNamara Alumni Center in Minneapolis on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Sviggum has resigned from his position as vice chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents nearly two weeks after asking if high diversity levels at the university system's Morris campus could be a contributing factor to declining enrollment levels.
John Autey / Pioneer Press / TNS
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MINNEAPOLIS — Steve Sviggum has resigned from his position as vice chair of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents nearly two weeks after asking if high diversity levels at the university system's Morris campus could be a contributing factor to declining enrollment levels.

In a short letter dated Tuesday, Oct. 25, Sviggum submitted his resignation to UMN Chair of the Board of Regents Kendall Powell, adding that it's been an honor to serve as vice chairman.

While initially justifying his comments as "just a question," another regent said Steve Sviggum wouldn't have asked unless he believed the answer could have been yes.

"After our meeting on Saturday morning, I have come to the realization that I should resign from the Vice Chairmanship, effective immediately," Sviggums letter reads. "I owe that position to my colleagues who have shown disapproval in my actions. I do so humbly and thoughtfully, with knowledge that the success of the University of Minnesota is the most important focus and is much more important than any one person or position."

Sviggum added that he intends to serve the remainder of his term, which expires in 2023.

The resignation stems from comments Sviggum made following a presentation to the Board of Regents from Morris campus Chancellor Janet Ericksen on Oct. 13. During a question-and-answer period, Sviggum opened a line of questioning to Ericksen regarding the campus' downward trend in student enrollment.

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After Ericksen acknowledged that the campus would fall short of a 2025 enrollment goal, Sviggum asked Ericksen if it was possible the campus was "too diverse" — a question he said stemmed from two letters he received from prospective students who wouldn't be comfortable attending the campus.

A sense of quiet briefly fell over the room as Sviggum continued to explain the basis of his question before Ericksen said she has no indication that diversity levels on the campus had any impact on declining enrollment.

According to fall 2021 enrollment data provided by the University of Minnesota, 56% of the Morris campus' 1,286 students are white, while 37.6% of students are Asian, Black, Hispanic or Native American.

One by one, other regents on the board responded. Immediately following Ericksen's response, Regent Darrin Rosha said he'd be "quite surprised" that any prospective student would hold a "legitimate concern" regarding the campus' diversity levels.

Days later, Regent Mike Kenyanya called into question Sviggum's role as vice-chair in a statement posted on Twitter.

Though many members of the public have called for Sviggum to be removed from the Board of Regents entirely, Kenyanya clarified that the power of appointment to the board lies in the hands of the state legislature, and not with other members of the board.

Neither Sviggum nor Powell were immediately available for additional comment.

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A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021. After over a year in Mitchell, he moved to Milwaukee, where he now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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