UND professor quits over denied Dakota Access pipeline seminars

UND professor quits over denied Dakota Access pipeline seminars Click to Enlarge

A University of North Dakota journalism professor says he's quitting because the school would not let him conduct seminars on the Dakota Access oil pipeline protest.

Mark Trahant says he was put in charge of a journalism lecture series and proposed two pipeline protest topics that were rejected. Last year, he wanted to hear from reporters who covered the protests. This year, he suggested talking about how the protest played out on social media.

Trahant didn't say specifically who turned down his requests, other than to say "it went up to both the provost's and president's office."

Peter Johnson, a spokesman for University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy, issued the following statement:

Dear Journalists:

Mark Trahant is a highly respected journalist and communication faculty member, as evidenced by the fact he has been made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been named an editor for an upcoming 2018 edition of Dædalus, the Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. We are sorry to learn that he has decided not to continue with the University of North Dakota.

The University of North Dakota senior administration has never, to my knowledge—and that includes conversations in the past two days, expressed any fear of retaliation by the North Dakota Legislature or by North Dakota legislators related to academic content. Nor has the North Dakota Legislature or any North Dakota legislators ever, in my experience, given the University of North Dakota any indication that there should be cause for any fear.

The University has engaged in all sorts of topics in ways that explore the full spectrum of positions related to those topics. In fact, President Mark Kennedy and First Lady Debbie Kennedy founded the Eye of the Hawk Lecture Series to explore all kinds of issues from all angles. The lecture series was developed with the notion that you have to be able to look at a topic from all angles to broaden your views, in the same way that a flying hawk sees landscapes without the artifice of political boundaries.

At the same time, the university has to make decisions about expenditures. Not every lecture topic is funded by the university, particularly in times of fiscal constraint. That doesn’t preclude individuals from seeking alternative funding sources. In this instance, there was concern expressed at the college level about using university funding at this time for the activities proposed by Mark Trahant. The topic wasn't new to the North Dakota University System. There had been a session on DAPL during the NDUS Fine Arts and Humanities Summit in September 2016.

So, to be clear: President Kennedy didn't know about, hadn't heard anything about, Mark Trahant's proposed events until the question was raised by media Thursday. President Kennedy regrets that there is any perception that the university would have prevented a faculty-led activity from taking place based on perceived fears of legislative response. In fact, although President Kennedy still likely doesn't know exactly what Mark Trahant had in mind (nor do I, but nor have I visited with Mark Trahant about it), President Kennedy does like the idea of an event that takes a balanced look at the DAPL issue.

Finally, I know Mark Trahant and admire him. I am (and we, as an institution, are) sorry to learn that he has decided to not continue at the end of his term. I wish him the best.


Peter B. Johnson

Interim Vice President for University & Public Affairs

Media Relations Coordinator/Community Relations Officer

Division of University and Public Affairs


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