The Tom Emmer Controversy at Hamline University


 I was intrigued by a recent article(s) in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (12/18) on the Tom Emmer flap at Hamline University.  It appeared that Tom Emmer was to be hired as an adjunct “Executive in Residence” Professor, according to emails written by the Director of the business program and by the Dean of the business school.  Another email, written by an associate dean for academic affairs, stated that “Emmer . .  will be joining School of Business as an Executive in Residence.”  However, because of a “very vocal few” (words from the dean of the business school) professors, Hamline University did not hire Emmer.

Apparently, these professors didn’t like Emmer’s conservative politics, particularly his anti-same-sex marriage stance.  One particular professor, an associate professor in the business school, said that Emmer’s views “directly conflict with school values.”   Yet, Emmer’s views fit in with the mission policy which states that Hamline University is “committed to . . . developing . . . a climate that promises a responsible, civil, and open exchange of ideas.”

While Emmer is a Republican and a right-wing extremist, and while I am anti-Republican and vehemently disagree with almost all of his views, I empathize with his situation.   As a retired Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations and Dakota Studies, for approximately thirty-five (35) years of my teaching career at several higher education institutions, I was thinking of my own situation as an Indigenous academic whose teachings didn’t coincide, generally, with white academia, wherever I taught.  My perspectives didn’t fit in with the “white studies” (Dr. Ward Churchill’s phrase) model of higher education, a model which is based on western European and U.S. Euro-American world view and values.   At various times in the several places I taught, I was considered “anti-American,”  “anti-U.S.,” “anti-Christianity,” “mean,” etc., and was reported frequently to the Dean, and, sometimes, even to the Provost.  My views were considered “controversial.”

Yet, to my way thinking and looking at the world, I was merely presenting the truth, with documentation, of what really happened for the past 519 years, since the invaders and colonizers came, saw, claimed, and defined, not only in the country of the United States with Indigenous Peoples, but also in this state of Minnesota with the Dakota People.  And, I, personally, thought that not only should the truth be presented to the students but also that the students be presented with a wide range of teachings, ideas, and perspectives which will cause the students to think and to better enable them to discern the truth.

For example, some of the teachings which are considered “controversial” by white Americans include, but not limited, to the following:

The massive land theft which occurred, the stealing of approximately three (3) billion acres of land by the United States and its Euro-American citizenry:

The breaking of over 400 treaties by the United States and its Euro-American citizenry, treaties which are considered as “the Supreme Law of the Land”, according to the white man’s sacred document, the U.S. Constitution, Article 6;

The genocide of sixteen million Indigenous Peoples of the U.S., which genocide was perpetuated by the United States and its Euro-American citizenry, which caused David Stannard to write in his AMERICAN HOLOCAUST (1992) that by the end of the 19th century, “there was, at last, no one left to kill.”  The U.S. and its Euro-American citizenry had killed off almost all the Indigenous Peoples;

The suppression of Indigenous languages, including the Dakota language  –  The residential boarding schools, operated by both the Church and State, were especially effective;

The suppression of Indigenous spirituality and ceremonies – a bitter irony since the United States and its Euro-American citizenry claim that the country was founded on religious freedom, apparently, a freedom reserved for U.S. Euro-American citizens, only;


Another factor which caused me to empathize with Emmer’s situation is the fact that two of my courses – “American Indian Spirituality” and “the Dakota People of Minnesota:  Genocide, Survival, and Recovery” – are not being offered at Metropolitan State University during the year 2012, the Sesquicentennial of the Dakota-U.S. War of 1862, where I serve as a Community Faculty member.  Both of these courses are Indigenous-focused and are taught by with an Indigenous perspective by an Indigenous faculty person.  One wonders if this, the two courses not being offered, is because of the “controversial” nature of the content of these two courses?  Was racism (racial prejudice plus power) involved in the decision-making process to NOT offer these courses during the year 2012?

The “controversial” teachings, listed above, are examples of why, probably, Indigenous Nations Studies and Programs are marginalized in higher education institutions and are the first programs to be cut because of “limited budgets.”  Emmer’s political views, “controversial” views, on gay marriage, on taxes, states rights, other social issues, etc. are reasons why it appears that Hamline University didn’t hire Tom Emmer – it was a political, not an academic, decision.

Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D., Retired

Chris Mato Nunpa, Ph.D. is a retired Associate Professor of Indigenous Nations & Dakota Studies at Southwest Minnesota State University and is a Community Faculty member at Metropolitan State University.  Professor Mato Nunpa is also a Dakota Rights activist.