Letter to the editor

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the editorial in the March 17th Oracle. The comments attributed to me did not come from an interview with Oracle staff, as the editorial implies, but in response to questions asked by HUSC members during a recent meeting. Given the absence of context in framing questions and responses for the opinion piece and the veracity of the judgments expressed, I believe a response is necessary. First, as President of Hamline University, I am committed to maintaining our United Methodist roots. I support the work of the religion faculty. I support our chaplains, the Wesley Center, and our AVP of Inclusive Excellence as they ensure and showcase our connection to our religious commitment and underpinnings. Second, as president, I am actively engaged in the higher education United Methodist organizations, both domestic and international. Recently, we received re-accreditation from the higher education arm of the United Methodist General Conference to maintain our designation as a United-Methodist-affiliated institution. In regard to religion studies at Hamline, I have consistently stated that religion will remain an integral part of our academic curriculum. Because of declining enrollment in the programs and the fact that our religion and global studies departments have no more than two faculty apiece,
the decision was made, after a formal process, to combine them. This decision was expressly made to strengthen religious education at Hamline, respecting our student body’s global nature. This seemed exciting even to our United Methodist accreditors. We can create a more vibrant and robust academic unit that could, in my opinion, more fully embrace our own global history through our religious tradition founder, John Wesley. It is a false equivalency to argue that religious studies cannot exist at Hamline unless we have a free-standing, single-discipline department. If one knows the history of academic structures, then one can appreciate this fallacy, as departments have not always existed as part of them. So, while the question of process might stymie some, it should not hinder the intellectual and academic innovation that should come from merging two academic units. Religious studies remain at Hamline and the faculty in the new combined unit has been charged with determining its identity, name, and curriculum. The Religion Department can still provide exciting study opportunities for current and future students, but not as its own entity. Now to the Aramark question. First, I need to correct the article. I did not say the dining services at St. Thomas resulted in a $10 million budget expense. That was their total expense due to COVID-19, which included dining personnel. I also discussed the impact an internal dining service would have on Hamline. We are a tuition-driven institution; our annual budget is made up of compensation and overhead expense.

If we were to take on the expense of internal dining services, we would need to significantly increase tuition to cover compensation costs for employees, which include benefits. I neither minimize nor dismiss the idea behind the desire to change to in-house dining. As president, however, is it my job to make sure we can meet all of our financial needs and obligations
through fundraising and other efforts. Also, it is not a “threat” to state the truth. Within our current budget, supporting in-house dining would impact money provided to students. And yes, our Aramark colleagues here at Hamline have worked with us to provide the best possible options for students and the university as a whole during the pandemic. This has lessened the financial impact of COVID-19 on Hamline, which will affect us for many years to come. I respect the opinions of all members of our community. I would hope that what I have stated and shared is respected and accepted in the manner intended. We strive to make the best decisions we can for all members of our community. Some will applaud, others might be disappointed, and still, others might remain disappointed and not participate. But, change is inevitable. It is how you embrace change that makes the difference. If we do the right things and be the institution that embraces change and, thus, innovation, Hamline University will not only survive, we will thrive.

Fayneese Miller, PhD